by Cecile Rider, Southside UMC Member
I have participated in local missions here in Jacksonville, and in other states and foreign missions in Guatemala. All of those experiences have taught me lessons and have expanded my outlook.
Over the years when I have traveled to Guatemala, I have met, prayed and shared meals with people who love and respect our Lord, who pray and cry out to God daily, who have little but are grateful for what they do have and who have a generosity that will put many of us to shame. They truly have to trust God daily for their next meal, for healing of their sickness and for a roof over their heads.
We also quickly learned that they did not really need us to help them build things, they are much stronger than many of us, but working alongside someone is a great way to build a bond and connection between people… creating something together … laughing together …. then sharing a meal together. You can communicate, even with a language barrier when you do this. And building that relationship, making a human to human connection is one of the most important things we do on these trips.
Coming face to face with extreme poverty like we see in Guatemala and here at home, is heartbreaking and at the same time inspiring. I have gained a new perspective, I learned these are people just like me, who love their families, want health and happiness for their children, but who are not given the advantages that I have, like clean running water and electricity in or near their homes, access to healthcare, opportunity for an education or financial security. By holding one of their babies in my arms, or having one of their barefooted children sit in my lap or run up to me and grab my hand, or washing the poor tired feet of one of the women, these people become more than a statistic about the world’s poverty stricken nations or a sad eyed child in a photograph, it makes it real, these are people that you now care about, have a connection with, and you can never forget, nor do you want to. As a worship song we sang in the early service say .. Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours. I want my heart to be broken for people in need. And for me, it stirred in me a new desire to do what I can to help them and make a difference in their lives for the longer term.
But being involved in foreign missions also changed me in other, more surprising way…. being away from my home, away from the relative wealth and distractions that my life has here, being out of my comfort zone and being with other believers in close proximity serving together, helps you to see things in your own life that may be lacking.
For example, after seeing the dire circumstances of those we came to serve, yet at the same time the happiness of the children just running and playing a game of tag, and the mom’s giggling in a childlike way, being content with simple things in life, it makes me want to appreciate those things in my own life… to work on my own attitude of being content in all circumstances.
Seeing them being so grateful for the simple VBS crafts and school supplies that we bring… makes me think about whether I am grateful for the all of the material things that I have .. and the answer is not as much as I should be.
Seeing them stand in line for hours to see a doctor, for what may be the first time in their lives, or certainly one of the few times in their lives, makes me more grateful for the access to healthcare that I do have.
Seeing the fulltime missionaries that work alongside these people every day, who are truly making an impact, moved to tears by the overwhelming need. Seeing those same missionaries spread thin and exhausted, missing their families back home and making huge sacrifices … makes you realize that while we tend to idolize people like them, they too are only human and need our love and support in order to keep going. It makes me want to find ways to love and support people like them.
So if you ask how short term missions has changed me, to be honest, it makes me a little ashamed of myself sometimes, for my many failings and my flawed human nature, but it has also made me want to strive to be a better, more loving, more compassionate person, it makes me want to love people right where they are, to listen to their stories, to treat everyone with love and respect, and to give them what they truly need, not what I think they need. It makes me want to do more here at home, because right here in our neighborhood there is great need and poverty like I have seen in Guatemala. It makes me want to be more grateful for what I have in life and to be more generous with what I do have. It makes me want to be more patient when things take longer than I think they should and to savor the simple things in life. It makes me want to be content in whatever circumstance I find myself in. It makes me want to pray more and worry less, and love more and judge less. It makes me want to take more time out with God and spend more time with followers of Jesus. It makes me want to never forget how much I am in need of my Savior, to truly trust him with my life and to strive to be more like Jesus each day.