Mission trip was real eye-opener

”What was I thinking when I decided to do this?”

That is what ran through my mind as I followed the little Guatemalan boy down the dusty road to his house where there was a ”better” outhouse.

I wondered what had possessed me to go on this short mission trip. What made me think that I could handle this?

God, I guess. He knew that I needed to go not just to help others there, but to gain a fresh perspective on our problems here in our community.

Early in the morning on Feb. 16, a group of 21 people, most from Trumbull County, left for a week in Guatemala. We were led on our adventure by the interim pastor of Grace Fellowship, Tom Duma. Tom is veteran of these trips having done many over the last 10 or 11 years.

After 19 hours of travel, we arrived at our destination late that Friday night, the Hearts in Action Ranch in the Peten jungle in northern Guatemala. The ranch is a mission compound where a school is located that serves the children who live in the jungle. These children are given an education and taught skills that will help them overcome the poverty in which they live.

While there, we did some work projects on the ranch, including painting classrooms and dismantling a church whose roof had caved in. That was a painstaking process because, due the shortage of building supplies, all the materials needed to be salvaged to rebuild the church later.

We also spent a full day at a village, helping residents put a floor in their church and having a Bible school-type program for more than 500 children. One day we visited a hospital, an orphanage and a dump. Another day, we visited schools and did a program for the children. We had a doctor with us who did clinics at each stop. We also gave out food and other items to the people each place that we went.

One complaint I’ve heard about these types of trips is that it would be better use of the money to just send it to the country. While this is logical, there is something intangible that is to be gained by both giver and the receiver of charity when it is done face to face. I gained a better understanding of what their lives are like and a greater compassion for them. Those who were touched by our trip were able to see that people care enough to come all that way just to meet them and help them.

I was painting a classroom that was adjacent to a classroom where an English class was being conducted. We were very visible to them and quite distracting. The teacher decided to use the distraction to teach the class and asked each of us in turn to come and ”help” teach. We read phrases in English for the children to repeat and translate.

I will never forget the smiles on the children’s faces, and I’m pretty sure they won’t forget this short, chubby, sunburned, paint- spattered gringo. Charity isn’t just about money. Charity has a face.

I have also heard that people should help those here at home rather than going outside of our country. I agree that we need to be more involved here at home, but the poverty I saw there is deeper than anything I’ve seen here.

In the part of Guatemala where we were, clean running water is the exception. Many people live at a subsistence level. I don’t think, though, that helping people in other countries and getting involved here at home are mutually exclusive.

The Bible says to love our neighbors as ourselves. When Jesus was asked who our neighbors are, He responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. A traveler had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The first two people passed by the man and didn’t take the time to help him. The third man came to his aid and even made sure he was taken care of after he had to leave. Part of what Jesus was saying is that our neighbor is anyone who it is in our power to help whether in the Peten Jungle in Guatemala or the Asphalt Jungle of Warren.

In the months leading up to our trip, Tom asked us to take the ”do not disturb’ signs off of our hearts. He wanted us to allow ourselves to be moved to action by the things that we experienced. My goal when I began to write columns for the Tribune Chronicle was to open peoples’ eyes to what is happening in our community and motivate them to action.

So let’s open our eyes and our hearts to those here in our community. Let’s love our neighbors whoever they are. Reach out to a friend who’s grieving. Make time for a child whose parent can’t or won’t make time for him. Show kindness to strangers. Give your time and money to those organizations that are trying to make Trumbull County a better place to live. Educate yourself as to the problems we face and try to be part of the solution.

Let’s take that ”do not disturb” sign off our hearts.

Yoder is a West Farmington resident.