Final thoughts by Brad
"It's about the people"
I have to say that this year’s trip to Guatemala was one of the best. So much was accomplished. The team worked great together from the very beginning. But, as with every year, I came back encouraged the most by the people we met and worked with each day. In the end, it’s not about the things we do…“it’s about the people!!!”
As always, I will skip over so many of the daily things we accomplished. You can go back and follow our journey day by day on the blog. I always encourage people to start with the first day and work forward. That way it will be like you were there with us, walking through each event.
Fun along the way
This was a really fun group this year. Tom Ballinger’s Spanish skills made our eyes water from laughter. All of the guys just clicked well. Every one had a nickname. Guys went to get ice cream together, sat in the hallway and laughed late into the night (it made my blogging that much more special), and enjoyed all the moments of the trip. We served as brothers in Christ. Even though some of us had never met before, we truly became friends. I want to thank each one of them for going this year. Rich, Tom, Rick, Gale, Tommy, Brad and Scott…it was a blast!!!
Small gifts matter
If I asked you, “what was the first gift you ever received in your life”, what would you say? It would be a stretch for many of us. We are all so blessed in life. Between birthdays and Christmas, most of us have received hundreds of gifts. At 46 years old, there is no way I could remember my first gift. Several times during the week, I was reminded of the fact that there are many people in life who have almost nothing in the way of “things”. During one home visit, when we gave a family a bag of food, the mother pulled the Bible out that she received and held it close to her chest. She told Chris that it was the first gift she ever received in her life. She was about 30 years old. She didn’t have an iPhone, a car or a TV. In fact, she didn’t have enough food to feed her children. We gave her about two weeks of food to help her meet her children’s needs, and she saw the Bible as the greatest gift we brought to her. We got the same reaction for the blankets. It is a small gift, but it meets such an important need in their life. Fifty-one people are sleeping warmer tonight in the mountains of Guatemala. It’s because you gave to meet the need.
One of the highlights is always revisiting many of the people we have worked with in the past. Because we went to a new village, we were not able to do that as much as we like. But, we saw Juana (who had the eye surgery in America), and Pastor Juan’s church in Tecpan (80 family members to us all). The kids in Juan’s church are really growing up. They are the next generation of leaders in their church and community. I think God has many good things planned with these young people. I look forward to watching it happen. Another high point was seeing Etylvena. You can go back and read her story, but she is a resilient woman we built a house for two years ago. She makes extra money by pulling teeth on her front porch. Thanks to Dr. David Shutt for donating some extra dental tools. I’m sure they are being used as we speak.
The first moment we get to meet the family we will build the house for is very cool. You have seen their faces in pictures. Tried to analyze their situation. Guessed at what they might be like. All of that falls away when you finally meet them. They were a special family. The dad really joined in to help us. That’s always good to see. He had been praying over their land for a long time. His kids were adorable. Little Carmalina stole Rick’s heart. I can’t tell you how many pictures we have with Rick and Carmalina. It was also great meeting people like Isaiah, who you might remember was murdered, but brought back to life. If you don’t remember the story, go back and read. VERY interesting!!! His family had a huge impact on my heart.
A face to remember
I always bring back special memories of certain people from the trip; one face that I can pin that trip to in my mind. For Rick, it was little Carmalina. For me…it was Anna. Anna is 29 and has had a very difficult life. She and her family live in a small village. Some inappropriate and devastating things happened to her many years ago. The repercussions of those events scar her now. She has developed a very large growth inside of her body. The doctors say it is the equivalent of being 7-months pregnant. Many people would tell her she has every right to be bitter at the world. “You have been mistreated and dealt a bad hand!” That is how most of us would probably have reacted…but not Anna. Her smile is so joyful. She does the best with her situation. She makes a small living sewing things with her hands. She supports her sisters and dad. And, she does all of this with a simple humility and sweetness evident in how she carries herself. This is the person I will keep in my mind from this trip. This is the person I want you to keep in your mind as well.
One thing can fix all the problems
The reality of life is very hard in Guatemala. I know it’s hard in America as well. I never want to take away from that. But, there are so many young women and men like Anna in Guatemala that have potential. They were created by the same God who created you and me! It’s too easy for us to close our hearts and minds to the plight of people like Anna. When I came home from my first Guatemala trip in 2009, I asked God to “never let my heart be the same.” I ask Him every year to “break my heart for what breaks His.” He has answered my prayer every time. There are tears in my eyes right now. These home visits we go on in Guatemala are “ground-zero” for where Jesus lives and works in people’s lives. I asked one person “When you look up to the stars and pray, do you think God hears you?” I will tell you the same thing I told that person. The answer is a resounding…“YES!!!” God can, and does hear you. I saw a cool video on Facebook where a guy said there is no God, “because if there were, there would not be any suffering or pain.” The man’s response who was talking to him was that “because people don’t come to God in the first place is the reason there is so much suffering and pain.” Jesus is the only solution. This is not a church denominational issue. This is a heart issue. You may be a mom, whose marriage is absolutely falling apart, living with a man who hasn’t loved you for years. You may be a student, whose family life stinks, you have no purpose or direction, and quite honestly you don’t care. You might be a husband who is struggling at work, your thought life and holding it all together. Sound familiar? It’s life in America. It’s life around the world. Politics won’t fix these issues. Money and time won’t fix them either. Only one thing will not only solve these problems, but will turn them completely around. What will do this? Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can fix these problems. Whether you believe it or not, He is the One who actually created you. He planned your birth before you were even conceived. He has known every day of your existence, and He knows of every struggle you are enduring right now…I mean at this very moment! So, I tell you the same thing I tell the people I visit in those homes. To solve your problems, you have to go outside of yourself. You have to admit your need for help. No pride in this. Quit trying to fix this on your own…you never will. Oh sure, you will have some good moments along the way, but there is no ultimate satisfaction. People will still disappoint you; borders in our lives and between our countries will fall. Politicians will not fulfill their promises. Why? We, and they, have no authority! Only One person has that kind of authority. Don’t come to God with some half-hearted plan to fix the “leaks” in your life. To fix your problems, He has to give you a completely new heart. How does He do that? By taking away the old, stony and cold heart that you had before, and giving you a new one that is capable of accepting Him. We are so hardened and blind to God because of the world. We can’t see Him unless He opens our eyes. I’m telling you in absolute truth, if you will finally stop fighting God, accept Him as the Savior of your soul and Lord over all of your life, ask Him to forgive you for rebelling against Him for all of these years, and follow Him wherever He leads…you will find “Peace!” You will find peace for your life, and peace for your soul. And, amazingly enough, it will begin to bring peace to those around you as well. You can’t control those around you. They must choose for themselves. But, when God transforms YOU, He will use that witness to begin to change THEM. Your happiness and joy doesn’t depend on their choice. Come death or life, your peace and joy will be found in the Lord, and Him alone. How do I know this? I have lived my own life with and without God. I know of the pain from living 20 years without Him, and the joy of 26 with Him. I see this same truth played out in the lives of every person I visit in Guatemala. This is the joy that Anna has. That is why someone like her can have a joyful smile. A genuine, "I trust God with the direction of my life" kind of smile.
Her life is not easy, and it probably never will. She will have some tough choices in front of her. Due to our fundraising, it looks like we will be able to help Anna get the surgery she needs. This will not be an easy choice. She has gone to Guatemala City to have an exam and consult. But, being operated on is another story. In America, surgery is pretty routine. We have all endured it or watch it on TV all the time. But, she is the only income winner for her family. She will have all kinds of doubts and concerns. It’s not our choice to make for her. I will pray for her. I pray for strength for her heart, and that of her family who depends on her. I know she is in good hands…Jesus!
Your help makes it possible
When we fundraise for the trip, the goal seems insurmountable. I always remind the guys of the old saying, “How do you swallow an elephant? One bite at a time!” This is exactly how we met the dire need we found in Guatemala this year, “one donation at a time”. From the two young girls in Iowa who donated money that was used to buy 16 chickens for two families, to the women in Iowa who knitted the stocking caps that Rick brought with him, to the women in Louisville who joined together to raise funds to sponsor the 51 blankets we gave, all the families who donated clothes and shoes, “Love the Hungry” in Louisville who donated the food; to the local Target store that donated school supplies for the children. Every donation mattered. No gift was too small. We needed every single one of them.
I cannot express how important your support is in helping us meet the need on our trip. We absolutely COULD NOT do it without you. I am always hesitant when I send fundraising letters and emails out. I know that there are many worthy groups that ask for your help. Thank you for your trust. Thank you for your help. It truly means the world to me…to all of us!
I always like to close with the same offer. If you read this blog, and God is working on your heart, please don’t write it off. People say to me all the time that they have never heard God talk to them. He’s talking to you right now! If you don’t know the peace I am writing about, I would gladly talk over coffee, email or the phone. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to keep living that way. Remember what I said at the beginning, “it’s about the people”. You are one of those people! God would love nothing more than to change your heart and circumstances. He is more than powerful enough to do it. The question is…will you let Him?
I want to leave you with one last picture. There are only a few things in life I don't like. One of those things is being cold. Once you get "down to the bone" cold, it's hard to function. Well, that's every day life for the people in this mountain village. This picture is of the wall inside on of the homes we visited. The wind just blows right through the boards. Imagine putting your children to bed at night next to this wall. Maybe one night? Two nights? How about...forever! We can always use your help. Remember, every gift matters!!!
And with that, I look forward to seeing you all again next year!
Dios te Bendiga,