by Beth Paz
So much evil has been justified in the name of ‘missions.’ One can take a quick jog through recent history to find that in the name of Jesus Christ, many white North American Christian missionaries forced assimilation while disrespecting the cultural values of indigenous peoples. We preached a message of repentance mixed with messages of nationalism, patriarchy, and white acculturation resulting in damage especially to those people, but also to the integrity of the Gospel.
I went on several mission trips as a youth and wanted to be a missionary when I grew up. It might have been better if I just expressed my love of travel, adventure and different cultures from the beginning. But, God used short term missions to shape me; in the Mexican migrant farm workers camp of Mt. Vernon, WA, my heart was opened to embrace others from a different background for the first time. A summer with our evangelistic European choir and drama team made the world come alive; I dedicated my whole life to ministry to God.
Now, about 20 years later, I’m the Youth Director. I desire those profound cross-cultural experiences that shape and wreck us- but not at the price of a communities’ well-being. Some say it can’t be done at all, their Facebook rants say to take your thousands and give them to a local Church or community development organization. Changing the name from a “missions trip” to a “Service and Learning Trip” is not enough, but it indicated a start.
I risk it, researching, interviewing short term mission agencies until I find a satisfactory model – it’s not perfect, but headed in the right direction. The agency is connected to a community who invited them. Within, everything is led by the indigenous leaders of the community; the local church leads the ministry for kids, they are linked with a local non-profit doing long term community development and are partnered inter-faith with Catholic nuns who run an orphanage for kids abandoned because of HIV. Our team is a hybrid of inner-city Latino boys and white suburban girls – the fruit of a purposeful blended youth ministry borne of deep relationship and commitment to the vision of mutual transformation at home. For 2 months we hard-wire our youth with our theme. We go to serve. We go to learn. This is not a vacation. God is already at work in Sumpongo. God is there. We go to serve. We go to learn.
And we were blown away by the raw beauty of God discovered in the acts of serving others and listening and watching. We found the natural state of our soul and dared to share it with each other. We heard the tender whisper of God’s love; we saw the magic of the Gospel at work. Every night, tears. Daring to pray out loud. Daring to dream a bigger dream. Daring to live like God existed and that we were called.
An Aboriginal woman of Australia said to some missionaries a time ago, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Truly, not until we discover that our liberation is bound up with another, are we truly freed to live out the wholeness of the Gospel.
Reflections from the Students
My 3 words to describe the trip?
- Life Changing. Life changing because it changed my perspective on life when I saw all the kids smiling when I saw they had so little.
- Fun. I got to spend time with people that I know and got to know others I didn’t know. I made friends with one dude. I want to go back
- Heart Opening. When I was at the orphanage, I was talking to a kid and he asked me about my mom, where she was. I said she was at home. He asked me where my dad was and I said, I don’t know him. The kid then said, well for now you can be my brother. And I thought wow, it really opened me up to realize they want and need attention, someone to be there with them and it made me proud that he considered me to be his brother.
I’m so happy that I went on this service and learning trip. At first I thought it would be kinda boring but it was the total opposite of that. The days were full of experiences and building new relationships. Working with kids all day I thought that I was going to get annoyed but, I loved every moment. These were just so happy to play tag and that’s all they wanted to do. It was so much fun and refreshing to dance and sing with theses kids. I saw a lot of big brothers and sisters carrying around their little siblings and the little ones really loved their siblings. These kids have so much responsibility and its just so amazing that these care for their brothers and sister with everything they have. I love the sense of community there. Everyone knew and cared about each other.
During this trip I was able to open myself to these wonderful people in ways that I never thought I could or even would. I was able to talk about certain things that I have never talked about to anyone in years and to be able to trust again. I do believe that God put every single person on this adventure for a reason. I’m so glad that I was able to mission trip and make new friends and grow in others.
I saw God the most in the home visits. We had the opportunity to be welcomed in to a couple of the homes of the families who lived in the community. It was a very powerful experience and I could see God working right in front of my eyes. One women hadn't been to church in a couple months. During our visit she began to cry and realized that God was with her even though she hadn't been going to church. Our team going and visiting this women and her family restored some of her faith. God showed right in this small moment how he was using us as disciples for his glory.
During these visits I was pushed out of my comfort zone and I had to pray for a family and explain a verse at another women's home. God revealed to me that the words I need to say will come when they are needed. Also that what I have to say is important and should be heard.
These visits also showed a stark contrast between a standard house in America compared to one in Guatemala. In Guatemala most of the homes are the size of one room. The items in the house can be counted on your fingers. Even with this simple life, I remember one woman said that God had provided everything she needed. In America people are so caught up in material items and having the latest gadgets. I want to try and live a more simple life. To not be so focused on having more things because God will provide what is necessary. Or maybe since I have been blessed with more than is necessary I should give to those who do need more.
All throughout 2017 I was always depressed until the beginning of this year when I had a dream. It was like I was in the entrance of heaven and my goal was to go on top of heaven where God was and God pointed me towards a path and told me " just follow my Word and everything will be okay." and I had this feeling of just surrendering myself to the Lord like if I had no other option. When I woke up I started flipping through the Bible and noticed that what I was reading was like an instruction book to life. I started to talk to my brother in law (Hector) about what I thought about the Bible and God, and after that I wasn't as sad as before.
So, a couple weeks later he asked me if I was willing to come to the Guatemala mission trip but I really wasn't interested in going because I wasn't comfortable with worship. But then he mentioned how other people were going to share how they see God and that really got me curious - I wanted to know the difference of how I saw God and how others saw Him. He also mentioned how we would be building a house for someone. So, I ended up going to see other people's points of view and to help someone in need.
There I saw and realized during worship that God will sometimes make you suffer so that someday you will turn and surrender to him and realize that, that's all you had to do, have faith in God and you will be blessed. It was just like the family in Guatemala, they had to sleep next to a wall with curtains to give them privacy for who knows how long but they had faith and they thanked God for the little things he gave them and with time he was able to bless them with the home they needed..