I get obsessed sometimes.
While researching Central America for my first book, Leaving Oxford, a burning desire to know more about mission trips grew. I harassed family and friends with questions about their trips. I read several books about mission trips and also about Central America. One book that really rocked my thinking was Enrique's Journey, which told of kids who'd jump on trains over and over at literal risk of life and limb to escape their circumstances and try to get to the U.S.
A yearning to go on a mission trip began. I wanted to help, and I wanted to see these places for myself. But the timing or finances never seemed right, so I decided that in book 2 of the Southern Heart Series (Going Up South), I would send my characters to Honduras...since I couldn't go. I was always pretty good with my imagination and pretending. (Maybe now I'm putting that to good use?) Not terribly long after I finished the first draft of that book, our youth minister announced he wanted to take our teens to Guatemala. I was stunned because they needed chaperones and because my teen son said I was allowed to go as a chaperone.
I'd heard it said that mission trips were listed in surveys as a top, life-changing experiences in a person's faith. I will agree with that assessment. Instead of telling you more about my experience or more about my books, I thought I'd let friends/family share 5 moving mission trip experiences~
1. Elizabeth Thompson: The most moving experience that I had in Honduras was at the city dump. Every Wednesday, Honduras Hope (the ministry that we were working with during the week) brings water and food to the dump. The dump is the most poverty-stricken place I have ever seen. People from all walks of life are literally digging through piles of trash to find any recyclables in order to sell back and get money to buy food for their families. I was so in shock how people could possibly work and sometimes even live in such a stinky, dirty, buzzard-filled place. However, while we were handing out the food and water, the people were so grateful and filled with joy; this was truly the joy of the Lord because there was no way anyone could have joy in such a hopeless and sorrowful place. I will forever be changed by this place and what the people there taught me about hope and joy in the Lord.
2. Brad Lister: That would be seeing the generosity of the people in the local congregations in Trujillo, Honduras. One thing that I saw at all of the congregations that I visited was a collection for widows (They seem to have a lot in Trujillo. Aside from traffic accidents and illnesses often proving fatal. I've heard of many men committing suicide because of the lack of work or lack of ability to provide for their families.). Each Sunday people would fill a basket with items, mostly groceries, and a widow would be selected for the basket to go to. Seeing that basket overflowing was a good visual representation of the generosity of the people. Generosity of people who mostly lived in mud huts. Even the wealthiest of people that I saw in Trujillo have very little when compared to 99% of North Americans, yet they were still able to give significantly to ones who were less fortunate.
3. Lisa Cantrell: A young girl from a village visited one of our Health Talents clinics in Guatemala. She came by herself and was seen by a physician who diagnosed her with an incurable skin disease. She had been shunned by her village and even by her mom since her earliest memories. Other than the few hugs she received at the clinic, she was unfamiliar with affection. When Rick Harper (of Heath Talents) told us this story in February, several of the team members discussed how to get Maria to the surgical clinic and do a biopsy. The Lord worked it out and Maria made it to Clinica Ezell the day before we left! Needless to say, we lavished all the hugs we could on her and was able to see the amazing power of God's touch in more ways than one!
4. Matthew Simoneau: The most moving thing I've seen is a 4:30 church service at a neighborhood church in Haiti. That early in the morning, most people at home would barely be stirring, but in Montrouis, Haiti, men and women of all ages got up and came to worship the Lord who they love and rely on, before they went off to start their day doing everything from selling fruits in the market to working construction and translating for others. Loud as you can stand praise music with 20 or so people who show up almost every morning and memorize bible verses (someone actually stands and recites so everyone can memorize together) sing worship songs and pray for each other. It's a beautiful and moving sight to see. Oh, and the service is called "Manna of the Day."
5. Ginny Wages: When we first arrived at the Ahikam Children’s Orphanage on Tuesday, the children repeatedly shouted, “Los gringos, los gringos,” which translates into, “white people, white people,” so much for trying to fit in! We could tell that the children had been told we were coming and had been waiting all morning for us, which meant that we had big shoes to fill. We followed the children into the dining hall and the women in charge finished preparing lunch for the children while we led a few songs. When the children started following along with words, motions, and welcoming smiles, we knew that they had accepted us. The afternoon went on with arts and crafts, dancing and music. When I stayed inside to help the women in charge finish cleaning, I learned some new techniques. The style of mopping used involved throwing cups of water onto the tile floor, which I could deal with, but where were the mops? The woman showed us that she cut a hole through the middle of a towel, stuck a broom in the hole, and started mopping. I remember looking at my youth minister and saying, “I will give you every penny I have to buy her as many real mops and mop buckets as I can.” I have visited a lot of places, loved a lot of people, enjoyed a lot of food, and played with hundreds of children, but nothing will ever compare to the week that I spent in the small city of Poptún, Guatemala.
Next month, I plan to share humorous mission trip experiences. :)
Have you had a moving mission trip experience? Leave a comment here or on my social media outlets to be in a drawing for a copy of book 1 of the Southern Heart Series, Leaving Oxford. Or if you win and are willing to wait until mid-June, I'll be releasing book 2, Going Up South.
Under the Southern Sun
Janet W. Ferguson