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My passion for Guatemala started several years ago. Here’s the story:
Our family is planning our next trip to Guatemala this December. Here’s how you can help:
Sunday night, I did something that absolutely scared me.
Leanne and I kicked off our Guatemala Strategic Advisory Board (GSAB). We prayerfully gathered a group of individuals and couples we believed could provide wisdom, accountability, and prayer support for us as we consider what our future ministry to Guatemala might look like in the days, months, and years ahead.
I honestly didn’t think I would be terrified when I started. In fact, I figured everything would simply fall into place as a result of taking the next step. I knew Leanne and I needed some help discerning our next steps, but I figured our passions would naturally mesh with our stories from the past to pave an easy path towards the future.
I have a passion for building homes for widows and orphans, and Leanne has a passion for children and families. Surely, we could easily blend these passions into something that made sense to us, to our advisory board, and to others.
I think we’ll get there, but I think it’s going to take more time, more work, and more prayer.
When Leanne asked me last night what I thought of the evening with our GSAB, I responded with mixed thoughts and emotions. First, I was excited to see how God had led us to some amazing people with an amazing mix of experiences and skills. We have teachers, engineers, mechanics, homemakers, event planners, builders, business owners, tax collectors, marketers, and project managers on our team. We even have someone on the board who has served on two mission boards. I truly believe we have people on the GSAB who are so wise. I felt humbled to be surrounded by them.
My second response to Leanne was one of fear – not a bad fear – an appropriate fear of what we are entering.
When I initially read Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote above, I think of trying something new every day. As I ponder her words more, I realize there are times when we have to enter into the unknown in order to truly discover our selves, our mission, and our place in the world. The unknown can be scary. It’s not what we know. It’s not where we are comfortable.
Where does it say in the Bible, “thou shall be comfortable”? I don’t think it does. (Contentment and comfort aren’t the same in my book.)
I guess some of my fear with the GSAB relates to coming to terms with the hard physical work, the hard mental work, the hard emotional work, and the hard spiritual work ahead of us.
What will be the outcome of our GSAB and our desire to serve in Guatemala?
I honestly don’t know.
I don’t know how much it will cost? I don’t know how much it will hurt? I don’t know much, but I know the journey will be worth it in the end.
I don’t want to live my life to be comfortable. I want to live a life that matters, and I ultimately want to live a life that points others to Christ and draws them to Him.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20
This is a passage known as The Great Commission. It captures some of the last words Jesus shared with his disciples.
I’m not a theologian, but I interpret part of this to mean we are supposed to share Christ and His love at home and abroad.
When people hear that my family is involved in short-term missions in Guatemala, they sometimes ask why we need to go so far away to serve others. They point to the incredible need in the United States, and they don’t understand why in the world anyone needs to travel so far away and “waste” so much money to serve people elsewhere. Some also point to the perceived inefficiency and ineffectiveness of overseas short-term missions. (I’ll try to address that in a future post.)
I can’t be everywhere at the same time, and I definitely won’t have an opportunity to serve and make disciples in all nations; however, I can do for one or for a few what I want to do for everyone. And if every Christian develops this mindset, we can actually reach all nations. Our family makes a point of serving in our local community (this is one of the reasons we started H.O.P.E.), but we also try to intentionally invest outside of our local community and around the world.
If you and your family are looking for ways to make the Great Commission a greater reality in your lives, you might want to consider these ideas:
Does the Great Commission involve more than short-term missions? Yes. The Great Commission talks about baptizing and teaching. These are other important areas for you to discuss and discover. Many people do not feel equipped to teach and baptize, and they use that feeling as an excuse not to serve others and to get involved. The Great Commission was meant for the disciples and for you if you call yourself a Christ-follower. If stepping into short-term missions scares you, remember the last sentence. Christ is with you!
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Seriously, the thought of blasting into space and exploring the “final frontier” was an amazing dream I had for a few years. Now, I’m quite content to have my feet firmly on the surface of the earth.
Over the years, I’ve had many other dreams. I’ve dreamed about the possibility of writing a book (a dream that came true with my first book – On Track). I’ve dreamed about the possibility of going to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona (a dream that did not come true).
I think there is something positive about having dreams and desires for our lives. These dreams give us reasons to live intentionally. They give us an avenue to escape from some of the realities we face in our everyday existence. Dreams can give us hope for what is yet to come.
Sometimes our dreams and desires get twisted and tangled. Maybe we let the dreams of our parents become our dreams. Or maybe we look at the “perfect” world of those on television or in the movies thinking our lives would be better if we were just like them. And sometimes we simply chase after the wrong things.
One of the things I love about going on a short-term missions trip is that they always seem to have a way of recalibrating my dreams and desires. Besides expanding your community and changing your perspective, they have a tendency to adjust the way you think about the future.
For example, my dream of building 100 houses in Guatemala for widows and their families didn’t just appear suddenly while I was working at my job in Blue Bell, PA. This dream and desire came about as a result of spending time in Guatemala serving widows and orphans. My short-term missions trip experience in Guatemala allowed me to see the impact a house could have on a family, and I wanted to replicate that for other families.
Last year while our family was coming home from Guatemala, Leanne and I made a decision to sell our house, so we could live more, save more, and give more. After an unsuccessful attempt at selling our house this spring, we remain committed to seeing how this plays out in the coming year. We believe the dream and desire to downsize was not placed on our hearts by accident, and our trips to Guatemala for short-term missions were instrumental in recalibrating our dreams and desires in this way.
When you go on a short-term missions trip, you open yourself up to the possibility of new dreams and desires that go way beyond your wildest expectations. And they go way beyond your self-centered, normal way of thinking.
Going on a short-term mission trip gives you the opportunity to see things from a totally different angle. The different angle will cause a change in your perspective.
For many people, this idea can be quite terrifying. “I’m too scared to see life from a different angle.” “I might not like what I see.” “I might even be convicted to change things in the comfortable life I live everyday.”
For many other people, this idea can be downright unnecessary. “Why do I even need a different perspective. After all, my perspective is the correct perspective.”
Regardless of where you are in life – your age, your economic status, your employment condition, your health, whatever, you need the perspective provided by putting yourself in another person’s shoes.
One of the reasons I value my short-term mission trips is that I always come home with an adjusted perspective. For one, I have learned to appreciate the material blessings in my life, and I’ve learned to hang on to them much more loosely. This comes from seeing how many people live on so little. Secondly, I’ve learned that contentment in life can truly come without the hurried pace of life that seems to exist in many parts of the United States. The mission trips I have experienced have also taught me that I actually have more to give. Life is not just about me. It’s about giving; it’s about sharing; it’s about spreading God’s love through words and actions.
Since I’ve been home, I’ve found it easy to slip back into the rat race of life. One of the reasons I write so frequently about short-term missions and about my experiences in Guatemala is to make sure the perspective changes stick. I do not want the positive perspective changes that have come as a result of going on a short-term missions trip to be a short-term thing in my life.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about short-term missions. They ask me why I think mission trips are important. And sometimes they even tell me I’m crazy for thinking short-term mission trips are worthwhile at all. This week, I’ll share with you some of the reasons I believe short-term mission trips are worthwhile and important.
Before I start, I think it’s important for you to know my history with short-term mission trips. I’ve been on more than a few trips. When I was in high school, I went on five mission trips with my high school youth group. We went to Bellefonte (Pennsylvania), Cherryfield (Maine), Coatesville (Pennsylvania), Rochester (New York), and Syracuse (New York). Each of these trips gave me the opportunity to serve with my fellow students building houses and doing other handyman projects. As I look back on these trips, I remember how much we accomplished, and I also remember the fun we had together working hard and playing.
When I was a college at Grove City College, I had the privilege of going on two Inner City Outreach (ICO) trips to Chicago where we worked with Habitat for Humanity providing housing to people in need in the Irving Park area of Chicago. I’ll always remember playing softball across the street from the Irving Park Methodist Church with Hunter Boyd, Erik Anderson, and Mike Black. These trips gave me an unbelievable opportunity to bond with students from Grove City College while we served during our Easter break.
More recently, I’ve been to Guatemala five times in the past six years where I’ve had opportunities to serve in the villages of Santo Domingo Xenacoj and San Raymundo. These trips have included house construction, feeding programs, and ministry to orphans and widows.
I’ve helped to plan several of these trips, and I’ve attended as a participant. The experiences have all been very valuable. I share this to let you know that I’ve gone on multiple mission trips (and I hope to go on many more). While I still have a lot to learn about short-term missions, I believe I have some experience that has served me well and will hopefully cause you to think about going on a short-term missions trip of your own.
On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by putting you in a foreign place. Whether you serve overseas or domestically, you are likely to find yourself outside your normal community. Thanks to my short-term mission trips, I’ve connected with people from across the country and around the world that I normally would not have met – people like German Espana in Santo Domingo, Guatemala. He’s a man who had tried to provide for his family by working in the United States. His heart for widows and orphans expanded when he moved back to his own village and deepened his relationship with Jesus. I also count as blessings the families we have served – people like Lydia, Betty, Angela, Maria, Dolores, and Carmen. These women and their stories have touched my heart and expanded my understanding of community.
On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by drawing you closer to your team members. This summer when I traveled to Guatemala with a group of 33 people from my church, my community expanded tremendously as I connected with each of the team members and learned many of their stories. The trip gave us an intense and intentional time together where we were able to share together, pray together, eat together, serve together, and even play together. I laughed, cried, and huddled with people I may never have really known outside the missions trip.
On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by opening your eyes to what others are doing to serve. I have connected with so many great people from organizations like Casas por Cristo, Habitat for Humanity, Adventures in Missions (AIM), and GO Ministries as a result of these trips. My community expanded to include people like Tyler Miller (Casas por Cristo), Pete Dockery (Casas por Cristo), Joshua Crabbs (Casas por Cristo), Dave Sgro (GO Ministries), and Seth Barnes (AIM). I’m thankful for these ministries and missionaries who have showed me what it looks like to expand your community with the intention of sharing God’s love.
That community should be happening right where you live, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Now is a great time to consider expanding your community outside your neighborhood through a short-term missions trip.
It’s been nearly a week since I returned home from Guatemala, and I’m still in recovery.
The other day, I mentioned that I might have a case of post mission trip depression. A good friend said that was a real thing. I’m not sure if I’m all together depressed, but I’m definitely dealing with some feelings I don’t normally have. My stomach has been a little unsettled that past few days which could be a result of a couple of meals I tried toward the end of my visit – namely the street side tacos from San Raymundo or the meal I enjoyed at the house dedication. Beyond that, I’ve missed the team we spent the week with in Guatemala. I’ve also been pondering the next moves in building more homes for widows. And I’m feeling the realities of being thrust back into a high pressure, fast paced world after being in a low pressure, slower paced Guatemala. I’m confident things will improve in the coming days, but these feelings got me thinking that I’m probably not alone.
Today, I want to give you some advice on how to overcome a case of post mission trip depression. (And by the way, I’m writing this for myself too.)
I’m already feeling a little bit better just thinking about taking these actions.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
The year, we build with Casas por Cristo. Casas is a fantastic organization, and I learned a lot through our experience this year that will be helpful as I pursue building 100+ houses in Guatemala.
Today, I’ll give you a glimpse into the building process. Our large team split into two smaller teams, and we both completed our houses in 2 1/2 days. The actual construction may have gone fast, but there were other steps before our build that paved the way for our visit.
In order to get a house, the pastor of a family in need must complete an application. Through this process, the pastor and associated church commit to coming around the family in an effort to disciple them and help them with their ongoing needs. The families selected make an average of $60 per week, and they typically live in huts made of cardboard, cornstalks, or bamboo.
The job site is prepared in advance of our arrival. In our case, the church community dug dirt out of the hill in an effort to level the site for the house, and they carried all the wood, stone, concrete, sand, and other building supplies down a huge hill to the job site.
When we arrived at the site, we gathered to meet the family and pray before the fun began. It didn’t take long to set up the cutting station and build the forms for the concrete foundation. Making sure the ground was as level as possible was critical to the next step.
Next we mixed the concrete with two mixers. Each batch of concrete included just the right mixture of sand, stone, concrete, and water. Before lunch on the first day, we had completed the concrete slab. This was a critical step, and we were reminded of the importance of having a firm foundation in our own lives to withstand the storms of life.
Wall construction started on Monday afternoon and rolled into Tuesday. We build the walls on the ground before lifting them up onto the slab. Once the walls were square and attached appropriately to the concrete floor, we began the process of installing the exterior tongue and groove panels.
While the exterior walls were being covered, a few members of our team climbed to the top of the house and began installing the roof. The roof consisted of wooden beams which supported the metal roofing material. By the end of the second day, the roof was installed and the exterior walls were mostly complete.
Wednesday morning, we arrived on site, and we quickly worked on finishing the house. The exterior panels were completed. The front door and windows were installed. The interior walls were covered. The electrical was installed and tested, and the trim work was completed.
This was my favorite part! After completing the house in the morning. Lydia and other ladies from her community cooked us all lunch (chicken, rice, corn tortillas, and a delicious red sauce). Our team sat down at a long makeshift table in front of the house, and we enjoyed the meal before a quick rainstorm interrupted things. When the rain died down, we all gathered in front of the house. Lydia received a Bible and a set of keys for her house. And we nailed a “Casas por Cristo” plate above her front door. After a time of sharing, we laid hands on Lydia’s house and prayed for Lydia, her new home, and her family. Listening to her pastor pray was one of the most moving experiences of the trip. He wept as he prayed aloud.
Missionaries from Casas por Cristo will head back over to Lydia’s house in a few months to see how she and the house are doing. And the pastor will continue to keep an eye on her as well.
Lydia and her family have been living with her father (or father-in-law – I’m unclear on this detail). He tries to help, but his health is failing. His desire is to make sure Lydia and his grandchildren are safe and secure with a roof over their heads.
Lydia has four children. She has three boys and one daughter. Her oldest son, Eddie, is eleven years old. They are a beautiful family.
A house represents security, shelter, and stability. As a result of this new home, Lydia and her kids will have protection from the rain, protection from potential abductors, and a place to rest. A house provides hope and a springboard to sustainability for her family.
We all need a fresh start from time to time. For Lydia, this house provides the fresh start she needs. It’s an opportunity for her to practically experience God’s provision in her life, and it’s a great way to connect her with her community and with us – the team who helped this become a reality in her life. It was such an honor and privilege for our team to be part of this new beginning for Lydia.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
We arrived home from Guatemala very early Saturday morning. I still feel like I am in a haze. Part of me is still in Guatemala. In fact, I kind of wondering if I might be suffering from a little case of post-Guatemala depression. It’s hard to get back into the routine of life at home in the United States after such an amazing and life-changing experience in Guatemala.
One of the things that made this year so different from my previous trips to Guatemala is that we went with a multi-generational team from my church (Christ’s Church of the Valley). When we climbed on the bus last Sunday afternoon to head to the Newark airport, I only knew a few people on the bus. As the bus began it’s journey to Northern New Jersey, Leanne and I began the process of getting to know some of the people on our team for the week ahead.
By the time, we arrived back at the church early Saturday morning, it felt like we were getting off the bus with 31 family members.
There is amazing power in spending time with others for a week of service. Together we built two homes and hopefully changed the lives of two families. While we may have had an impact on these two families who received these homes, the trip had an amazing on each one of us on the team. We went from knowing very little about each other to knowing quite a bit about each other. I would go so far to say that we made life-long friends on our trip to Guatemala this year.
We went from a team of unknowns to a family.
I’m so thankful for the chance to serve with others from our church this year in Guatemala.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47