This week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.
Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4.
To complement this theme, I’ve asked Laina Schneider, a friend and college student at Virginia Tech to post her thoughts on Jubilee. Laina studies agriculture at Tech and has served as Aldersgate’s mission intern in both Guatemala and Cambodia. Perhaps more importantly, as a college student her wrestling with questions of faith and life are just what the Church needs to hear. I’d encourage you to subscribe to Laina’s blog here.
On my first trip to Guatemala, I had prepared myself to work with an open mind, and to share the love of Christ with the people we were serving. I had learned at youth group that Jesus always loved and welcomed enemies and strangers, and this trip would give us an opportunity to do that.
After arriving and working with the families to build stoves, it struck me that their hospitality towards us was unconditional.
They didn’t just allow us to come into their homes because we were helping them build a stove. They would have welcomed us, just as anyone else, because they were a loving people.
The Mayans were and are an extremely oppressed population, and the fact that their love shone through decades of calloused hate and hardship, made their kindness all the more admirable. I realized that we weren’t welcoming the stranger by serving people we didn’t know, but that we were learning how to love our enemies from the example set by the Mayan families. They were graciously building relationships and working with us, all the while showing us how we should be living. So who was really serving whom?
This was a lesson that a lot of us learned on that first week, and we allowed it to really transform our understanding of what mission was. We talked about the trip being a time when we should step outside our comfort zones and empathetically don the practices of those we working with. This made perfect sense, and we eagerly practiced and discussed our efforts every night with the group. We were on a mission trip “high” as they call it; giddy with the vitality that accompanies devotion in the truest sense to what Jesus asked of us: to drop everything and go to serve him. We were happy when we were there, even if not in recognition of the reason. We caught a glimpse of the rich character that defined the Mayan people, and spoke excitedly of living more like them. Humans are fashioned by and after God, to be self-giving creatures, and when we did give freely of ourselves, we were filled with joy. We traveled and learned from the poorest of the poor, and saw lives and relationships defined by the richness of Christ’s love.
Even after that transformational experience though, we sunk back into our isolated ways of thinking and living.
Why did the mission trip high come to an end?
And why did we fail in our attempts to mimic the character of those faithful families upon our return to Western culture?
It is a hard question to answer.
Is it because we were bred into a culture of convenience and privilege?
Is it because we let the minor details of our lives overwhelm us?
How much do those things matter in comparison to richness of character and a life filled with love and joy?
Even if it may not be what we want to hear, I think the answer is right in front of us.
A one-week mission trip shows us the quality of life we could have all the time, if we shift our focus away from material details and agree to give ourselves fully to God.
We should not only recognize the prevalence of God’s blessing in seemingly unexpected places, but also take it back with us into even more unexpected places, our own communities.