Monday, March 26, 2012

Jesus Worldwide: Guatemala

From Katie: I love how every post in this series has been different because everyone has a different story about how God works. Do you have one? I'd love to hear it! (KatieAxelson[at]gmail[dot]com). Thanks.

This week's post is from Amber, a fellow Young Adult Volunteer at the LCMS National Youth Gathering last summer.
<>< Katie

When I left on March 6th to fly to Guatemala with the Guatemala Healing Hands Foundation, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve done local mission work before, but it was always through a church and our focus was always on outreach. This time was different. Not only was I traveling to a different country, but I was going with a somewhat different purpose. The Guatemala Healing Hands Foundation focuses on improving the health care in Guatemala through education, therapy, and surgery, with a special focus on pediatric congenital and hand injuries.

I applied to go on this trip as one of my occupational therapy fieldwork rotations. One of my professors is actively involved with the organization, and so she is able to take two students with her for every mission. To be selected, I had to write a series of seven essays explaining why I should go on this trip. In my application, I wrote, “My philosophy of service comes from the beliefs I have in the Bible and the servant heart it frequently discusses. This is the heart that inspires me in my pursuit to become an occupational therapist, and it inspires me as I am applying to go on this trip. First John 3:17 says, ‘But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brothers in needs, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?’ My philosophy of service comes in showing God’s love by sharing my talents. God gave me the gift to be a strong student. He gave me the desire to help others. He helped point me in the direction of becoming an occupational therapist. My desire to go on this trip can be seen in the above verse – if I have the world’s goods, if I have the skill set to help someone out, and he or she is in need, then it is my desire to help them out in whatever way I can…in doing that, I serve not only others, but I also serve God.”

In the days leading up to the trip, I prayed that God would give me a servant heart and attitude as I journeyed into the unknown. When I stepped foot in Guatemala, I was able to quickly see a lifestyle much different than our own. It was as if time stopped while I was there, and I was able to appreciate the beauty of the world around me. I was able to take my time and form relationships with people. I became thankful for everything that I own. Each day, I felt more and more overwhelmed with thanks to God for all the great things he has provided me with.

We started our mission by team building in Antigua for two days. My favorite thing about Antigua has to be the cross that overlooks the city. Our tour guide told us that every city has a cross looking over it from the north. How powerful is that!? We also were able to go shopping at various markets and spend an afternoon on Lake Atitlan. We also went zip lining and were able to visit a macadamia nut farm. During these two days, I felt very immersed into the Guatemalan culture. First, I saw so much beauty around me, especially when I was zip lining. On anticipating the excursion to go zip lining, I was pretty nervous because heights aren’t my thing, but when I got there I felt so calm. My fears were gone and I was able to take in God’s creation.

The next big thing our team did before we began the surgical mission was spend a day in Chichoy Alto, a small Mayan village with about 750 people living in it. The Guatemala Healing Hands Foundation has helped sponsor stove and latrine building projects in the village in the past, and this year the foundation did even more. Children in this village stop going to school after the 6th grade because of financial reasons. The foundation sponsored students to continue into the 7th grade next year. Additionally, the foundation provided the money for the village to prepare a whole meal for the day we came so that we could have a celebration with them. The village people spend a few days working on preparing for our meal, and it was a special treat for them to have meat (they usually never get meat). The foundation also paid to build additional stoves and latrines this year. The whole team helped start the building project on Saturday, and the family members of the surgeons and therapists continued during the week.

I’ve never felt so overwhelmed with emotion as when we stepped off the bus in Chichoy Alto. The people were so excited to see us and welcomed us like we were family. While we were in the village, we were able to take the time to play with the children and bring smiles to their hearts. It was while I was in the village that I really wished I knew more Spanish so that I could really connect and relate to these children and their families. In the center of the village, there were two churches, and I felt joy in knowing that they had access to the house of our Savior. While some might look at these people and wonder how they could be content and happy with so little, maybe that’s why they’re so happy. I realized when I was there how distracted I am day-to-day, and how much the fast paced world never lets me rest. The Bible tells us that our money and possessions are nothing. They won’t go with us when we die. What’s important is our relationship with Christ. Not the desire for objects, not having objects, not greed, not wealth. God is what matters. When I was in Chichoy Alto, I was strongly reminded of that, and it made me think again about what my real focuses are in life and what they really should be.

The remainder of our mission was spent working with children with congenital and hand injuries, as well as educating therapists at Guatemala City hospitals on how to treat certain injuries using best practice techniques. Our headquarters was through a Christian organization based out of Nashville, The Shalom Foundation. Shalom is Hebrew meaning peace, wholeness, completeness, harmony, healthy, safety, and soundness; a powerful blessing. A powerful blessing indeed. The Shalom Foundation is an amazing foundation that seems strongly connected with what I wrote about when I applied to come on this trip.

When someone is in need, including medically, we will help them, just as Christ has loved us and helped us. The foundation sponsors one mission every month and all are surgically or medically related. Our team performed about 15 surgeries a day for five days on children with problems such as trigger fingers, burn contractures, syndactyly, and complications associated with cerebral palsy. Going on rounds the morning after surgery, I saw a lot of smiles, much to my surprise. The families were beyond grateful for what our team offered medically, and I’m thankful that we were at the Shalom Foundation where a spiritual offering could be given to the families as well. The Shalom Foundation’s hospital is not located in the best neighborhood, but behind the doors of the hospital, you could feel love and thanksgiving. The walls were beautifully decorated and scripture verses could be found painted into murals. God is love, and that love could be seen throughout this mission.

Each day, I asked God to give me a servant heart. He did. Each day I asked God to pour out His blessings on everyone we encountered. He did. While this wasn’t an evangelism mission, I think we were able to touch the lives of the people in Guatemala. Christ asked us to humble ourselves and serve others. That’s what this very mission did. When people ask about the trip, I tell them it was humbling. You realize quickly how much we have as Americans. You realize quickly how distracting that can be, and you start to see God a little more in things it was easy to overlook before. At the end of the day, if I impacted nobody (which I know is not really the case) during my time in Guatemala, I felt Christ’s fire burning inside of me and reconnecting me with the passion to always have a servant heart and to see God speaking through everything, in everything, always.

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