If you are anything like me, it’s difficult to see a new year on a calendar without doing some reflection. Wow! What a year 2020 was! Like many people, unfortunately, I have also had the feelings of being overwhelmed, along with weariness, sadness, anger, and depression. When I am feeling overwhelmed, the mission trips to Guatemala are one of my lifelines. Last year, I thought this was also taken away as no Americans were allowed to enter Guatemala. But in God’s time, the opportunity suddenly appeared in December for me to be part of only a few people who have tried to bring help to the Guatemalans since March 2020. The Guatemalans have every reason to be despondent this last year, angry at their country and angry at God. I could tell so many truly heartbreaking stories, if I had a book and not just a newsletter! I heard many stories of family crises, corrupt government, no food, restrictions and no jobs. Some people have given into this despair and violence is prevalent. One family lost a newborn baby who was alone in a hospital because the mother was not allowed to travel across town to the hospital. The same week, their other son was killed in a shooting. But within the community of Grace Ministries, where they hear the Gospel story and learn that God loves and cares for them, the faith and joy I experienced was amazing.
Deidre, the director of Grace Ministries, and I talked a lot about stories of the past year. She spoke about how she is so proud of her teaching staff who have used their own small resources to take on the responsibility of helping their Guatemalan neighbors while international help was so limited. When the school and feeding center had to shut down in March, the teachers immediately started delivering food to every family in the Colegio J.E.T. school. Deidre wrote in her blog about how amazed she was that they were able to afford to give away so much more food, because they now fed the whole family, not just the student. This comes at the same time that their income from mission groups fell to $0. She says, “We are grateful the Lord is allowing us to serve these people in the midst of dark times. We are thankful He has surrounded us with people who help show the love of Christ through meeting needs. We wish each of you could look into the tear-filled eyes of a mother as she expresses her gratitude. We see the children run towards their weekly food bag. We wish you could hear the Guatemalans as they pray a blessing over the people in the United States.” Deidre tells about examples like a teacher giving a child one of their own pairs of shoes, a precious commodity there; finding a job for a father who had gotten involved with alcohol and was not supporting his family; taking food to an elderly grandmother in tremendous need; and driving a family 2 hours into Guatemala City to get some supplies. She says, ‘They don’t only talk about the love of Jesus, they show the love of Jesus, and the teachers made no fuss about it, they did not seek any praise’. The teachers helped the 11 of us on the trip to serve dinner to 1000 people, the children and their families. This is no small task! I never believed I could snap so many green beans! I was able to finish Christmas ornaments with 300 children with the teachers help (and Spanish translation)!
Deidre’s blog, ‘The Joy of Giving’, started my journey into thinking about how much joy I experienced that week. Her story is a modern-day version of the biblical story of Jesus praising the widow who gave everything she had as an offering in the temple. She tells of a teacher who had Deidre keep back a little of her pay each week for her ‘savings’ account. She is a single mother with several children of her own to support, whose roof has holes and tin walls need replacing. She came to Deidre one day and wanted a little of her ’savings’ to give to a friend who was very sad because she had nothing with which to buy a high school graduation gift for her daughter. Deidre said she wanted to offer just to give the woman some money herself, ‘but to quote Bro. Johnny Tucker, “Never rob someone the chance to bless others!”’ Deidre gave her the money from her ‘savings’ and asked if she wanted Deidre to help her write a note or even just write her name on the gift. Deidre said ‘she just smiled and said “It’s a secret!” She left my office grinning from ear to ear. She actually bounced as she walked away, thrilled to be able to bless someone else. And the Lord spoke to me, “Now that’s the true JOY in giving.’ Can I express the joy in giving that I experience when I am able to be such a tiny part in helping the Guatemalans? It is so difficult for me to put in words because there is just so much to tell. On this trip, I got to meet my sponsored child, Jefferson, and his sister, mother, father and grandmother. The joy in their faces as they opened a few gifts I brought them from the US, and as we spent an afternoon buying shoes and eating McDonalds and ice cream is indescribable.
I watched as the children BOUNDED out of a school bus crammed with around 120 people (yes – in the midst of COVID). They were so excited to attend an American type Christmas party with decorations, trees and ONE Christmas present for each child. Their joy reminded me of how I think the perfect Christmas morning should be. You would have thought the children received a whole Wal-Mart toy section! The children recited the entire Christmas story scripture and sang carols like Joy to the World and The Little Drummer Boy, and of course Felix Navidad. This was all in Spanish, but it was totally recognizable even to me who is completely language challenged. The children were so excited to be on stage (which our men got built literally a couple hours before the first party) and have an audience clapping for them. The expressions on the parents faces were so proud, it was a beautiful sight. My thought as I watched and listened was how do we get back to this joy; how do we teach our children again to be so happy and thankful for one toy and a bag of food?
Every time I go to Guatemala, God speaks to me, reminds me of His care and grace. This trip was mostly about Joy. God very deliberately reminded me that even in the mess of the world in 2020 how specifically He provided for my every need, far beyond what I could have even imagined to ask for, and certainly so far beyond what I deserve, and all in His perfect timing. I keep my own blog on these trips, and when I’m getting down, I do go back and read it. I also check in with the leaders in Guatemala, and I even plan what I can take next time. Our first devotion on this trip was about the shepherds’ joy and about why and how God sent us- the first 17 people allowed to provide aide. Could God have sent us so that we can see the joy there and spread it to others? Do we recognize how God has exceedingly, abundantly blessed us above all that we ask or think?
On last year’s trip, I prayed for God to help me know if His plan was for me to continue with the crazy schedule I live with (wishing all the time that the answer would be ‘no’), but I firmly got His answer as ‘yes’. Now looking back, I recognize how He was faithful and honored my obedience, even as I still struggle and fight my own wishes almost daily!
The majority of the Grace Ministry community is not scared of COVID. They say that they had faith in God in 2019, why not now? Dear God, please bless us with this kind of faith. Keep us from fear. How many times does the Bible say, ‘Be not afraid’ or ‘Fear not’? He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deut. 31:8) Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10) And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great JOY that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
I pray we allow God to show us His JOY. Although so many doors seem to be closed right now, I pray we allow God to open the window to our own ministry opportunities so we all experience the JOY of Giving!
Fear not! Cheryl Walker