For Spring Break, I traveled with the Collierville Christian Church Youth Group to Antigua Guatemala on a mission. My husband, Andrew, created and organized the trip. He put me in charge of our worship and devotion time. Leading up to this mission, in our house, dreams and visions for this trip filled our dinner table conversations- and the trip finally happened!
We set out on Sunday, March 11th. We drove to Little Rock Arkansas for our flight. After church, we hurried to our cars and on to the highway, rushing through construction that boiled the roads down to one lane.
Just when we thought we might not make our 2:45pm flight to Houston… we found out our flight was canceled. So, the mission trip began with 24 hours in a St. Patrick’s Day themed Comfort Inn near the airport and an 8 hour layover in Houston. Despite the stress, all of the youth kept their spirits up.
I planned a worship service in the Houston airport. We meditated on Jeremiah 29:11-14 “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” We commissioned each youth group member for God’s work, we wrote out our worries on prayer flags, and we prayed through the question: Where do we believe we will see God in Guatemala?
Our flights finally matched up, and we landed in Guatemala City late at night just as the city settled into sleep. We went from the airplane to a tightly packed bus as we drove into Antigua. Even in the moonlight, we could see the brightly colored buildings and the glimmering cobblestone streets as we entered.
We stayed in a hostel near the heart of Antigua. We all fell into our pillows when we arrived, preparing ourselves for the ministry and service ahead.
Tuesday through Friday followed the same structure. Every morning, we woke up at 6:30am for sunrise, rooftop devotion. Then, we moved to a simple breakfast prepared by the hostel owner. Following breakfast, we walked into town to begin our ministry and service. We had two mission sites every day: one group built 2 houses with the organization From Houses to Homes; another group held orphans, folded clothes, and fed the malnourished. (Andrew managed the house building site, and I managed the orphanage site.) After our long days of working, we returned to the hostel for dinner, 1 hour of free time, followed by nightly worship.
This trip felt like a dream come true, and a homecoming.
Andrew lived in Guatemala 7 years ago and he worked with From Houses to Homes during his stay. When we checked in for our first day of work, the directors of From Houses to Homes treated Andrew like a celebrity- he was their first volunteer just as this ministry launched in 2005. They celebrated his return and gave us all the royal treatment.
I did not see the build site until the day of the house dedication, instead, I spent my days guiding students through the emotional and taxing work at Hermano Pedro- an orphanage and hospital in near the town square in Antigua. Every single day, 4 youth would rotate out of the build site and stay behind in Antigua with me, as we worked with the lame, the crippled, the blind, the deaf, and the broken.
Franciscan monks and nuns manage this place of refuge called Hermano Pedro. 230 residents live in this beautiful, ancient facility with open courtyards and high ceilings and rooms lined with 30-40 beds each.
The residents all suffer from serious ailments. We tended to a 14 year old boy who weighed only 12 pounds. We would cradle his fragile body and gently offer him a bottle of nutrients.
Most residents suffer from cerebral palsy or spina bifida. Every day, we would untangle these residents from their complex wheel chairs and hold them in our arms, or stretch and massage their crumpled limbs as we sat on cushioned mats.
When the patients were sleeping or resting, we would fold their laundry or sing quietly in their rooms. Our orphanage ministry was not physically taxing. Most patients weighed less than 40 pounds. However, our hearts ached for these beloved children of God. Our spirits were stretched. Our work was emotionally exhausting. And yet, God’s light shined so brightly at Hermano Pedro.
When I wasn’t directing the daily work at the orphanage, I was planning our daily sunrise devotions and our nightly worship. The group that stayed at the orphanage each day planned the elements of worship with me based on our devotion scripture.
Our morning devotions always set the tone for the day of ministry ahead. I loved planning this element of the trip.
In our devotion time, we started out by studying that vivid story in Luke 10:29-37 when the lawmaker asks Jesus ‘who is my neighbor?’ and Jesus reminds him that our neighbors are those who we shower with mercy. We all asked the question- who are our neighbors? That night, the group that planned worship with me built an altar with the words Neighbor, Gospel, Mercy and Action on it. They read the scripture in Spanish and in English. One student offered her testimony from her work in the orphanage.
On the second day, we moved to Isaiah 58:6-10, where God reminds us all that God’s plan is to loosen the bonds of injustice and care for the afflicted. We asked the question: what does injustice mean and what are we called to do about it? In worship that night, we built an altar with the words Healing, Light, and Service. We shared communion of tortillas and salsa.
On the third day we recounted that beautiful scene in John 13:12-20 where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. We asked the question: what would it look like to take on the servant heart of Christ? In our worship that evening we all took turns washing each other’s feet- using the prayer flags we made in the Houston airport to wash- as we all transformed our burdens into service.
On the fourth day we remembered Jesus’ words in Luke 14:13-14 that we must invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to our banquets. We asked the question: do we ever invite the broken into our lives? How can we do this daily?
And on our final day we turned to Proverbs 31:8-9 where we are called to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. We asked the question: how will we speak up for all those whose stories we heard on this mission trip once we return?
In our final worship, we combined these two final scriptures as we all journeyed to the cross. We sang “Spirit of the Living God” and we remembered all the places we saw the Holy Spirit in Guatemala. We gathered around our cross- made up of all our prayer flags washed clean- no more burdens written on them, no more grime from our foot-washing.
This cross was the reason we traveled all the way to Guatemala on a mission trip. The cross is the reason we continue to renew our faith and put our prayers in motion. In our worship on that final night we understood the purpose of trip as we came to that cross.
We remembered that this is what the cross is all about: turning our burdens into hope, transforming our ministry into the good news of the Gospel, and shining God’s mercy and grace into all the broken places we encounter in this world- so that all of God’s people are lifted to their feet. May our ministry continue to bring us to the cross. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.