Expanding My Territory through the Outstretched Arms of Hospitality

Last fall, Andy and I made the wonderful decision to serve on the Frontlines Missions’ March 2015 Guatemala mission trip. This September reminds me of the planning and preparation phases, and prompted me to write more about some of my Guatemala experiences here.
If you want to know more about what you can do for the Guatemalan people and the March 2016 mission trip and, please contact Frontlines Missions and Ministries  or Centerpoint Community Church.

 

Hospitality

As early as age eleven, I remember the kitchen’s sweet smells as I pulled sheets of oatmeal cookies from the oven. The aroma lured my brothers in to devour cookies. (My hands secretly stowed a few behind canned tomatoes—to ensure I would get one or two before they vanished.) By age thirteen, I was making meals and perfecting piecrust.

As an adult, I am known for welcoming people into my home—for quiet dinners, holiday gatherings and Small Group meetings. I revel in seeing a dozen quiche lined up on the counter, cookies and confections arranged on platters, raspberry sherbet softening in punch. Settled in my comfort zone, hospitality pumps through my veins.

Comfort Zones

My fingers fluted the edges of the pie dough. The comfort-zoner in me repeatedly hung back, my arms rarely stretching beyond the confines of comfort. Like when I turned down the opportunity to attend college out-of-state, visit friends in Europe or share my writing with the world.

I never guessed I would someday go to a Third World country on a mission trip. In Campur, Guatemala, I would learn new lessons in hospitality—through outstretched arms.

Exhausted, I settled into my bunk on the first night, prepared for a solid night’s sleep after two long days of travel. The barking of wild dogs echoed in the night. I imagined them hungry and aggressive, with snarling teeth. I retrieved my dangling foot into the sleeping bag as fear chased me into a fetal position. I shivered scared in the seventy-degree night. At 3 a.m., I jerked awake to strained voices of roosters interrupting night like an annoyed mother trying to rouse her resistant children for school.

Though I lay outside my comfort zone, soon, my territory would enlarge. My disquiet would dissipate. As God worked in a bigger way through me, He created more room for me to grow, be blessed, and see the blessings of others.

In reaching for more, I experienced a new sweet spot in hospitality.

Love for Strangers

Andy and Santiago

As we disembarked the bus in Campur, Santiago stood eager to help unload our luggage. Santiago, a short man with a broad smile and crooked teeth, who appeared middle-aged, clung to our group during the week. He reminded me of an excited child reunited with long-lost family. Even though he could only speak Kekchi, Santiago communicated his love for having pictures taken with us. He’d point to our cameras and eagerly take his place beside us.

This had not always been home. Several years earlier, this mountain man wandered down from the Guatemalan mountains, barely clothed, hungry and sick. No one knew who he was, where he’d lived or why he left. Knowing nothing about him, not even his age or birthdate, the resident missionaries took Santiago in and provided a job as groundskeeper of the compound. Santiago now knows his birthday to be a day in March, a day appointed and celebrated by Frontlines Missions and Ministries team. Santiago found a home and a hope from the love of strangers.

Connected

I observed the way Guatemalans show love to one another. Their hearts seemed connected by a kindred love, the kind that blossoms from the giving and receiving.

Women—in groups of two, three or four—walked for miles to market on rutted dirt roads. Their casual exchanges held a perceived comfort, the kind that says, “Here I am. I care about what you say.” Their young children whirled and hurdled about on the journey. Girls carried toddler siblings on their hips, one way of helping their mothers.

In this age of digital distractions, the idea of living unplugged and yet connected seems impossible, but these people live unplugged of world distractions, as they love one another.

Sick man in Guatemalan wheelchair

Evidence of goodwill amazed us each day. Near the week’s end, a man raced up the steps of the medical clinic after trekking for miles. Bent over and out of breath, he was not the one in need of the medical care. Tied to his back sat a seriously ill man in a plastic lawn chair. What a display of love!

Trusting

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A mother carried her sick child to me. Body language, facial expressions and select words guided my assessment of my patient. I rubbed my belly, and then touched my head as I struggled to pronounce, “Q’oxom?” in my attempt to determine the presence of physical pain. I butchered the word, k’atän, in hopes of learning about any recent fevers. It took little time to uncover the problem—a badly infected rash on the child’s abdomen and chest. As I treated her daughter, I felt this mutual give and take: she gave me her trust as I honored her for allowing me to care for her daughter.

As the week progressed, language barriers became less of a challenge in my work as a nurse. Whenever I wondered if my translated messages remained the same as they went through variations of English, Spanish and Kekchi, I remembered my actions were what spoke clearest to the people.

Through my actions, I tried to tell her and every other patient, “I have come all this way to tell you I love you and God loves you. We are here to help you.”

God Speaks Every Language

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Rain showered down on a Wednesday morning. Grief poured down on the people. The Kekchi’s dear friend and pastor had died of cancer. They walked for miles to attend his funeral. Streams of people spilled from the over-filled church into the road’s water-filled potholes. A spring of songs, bursting with compassion, soaked the village with love. They wailed deep. One did not need to know Kekchi to understand their language or their sorrow.

From across the road in the medical clinic, I paused to steep in the moment, to share their pain, honor a stranger and love a people. Yes, God speaks English, Spanish, Kekchi and every other language.

In the New Testament, the word hospitality comes from the Greek, love and stranger. Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT) tells us, “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”

I went to love strangers, only to find myself loved as a stranger. And the beauty of it? By loving like that, we stop being strangers. By living with outstretched arms, we find sweet spots—new places in a space of grace. That’s the beauty of hospitality.

14 Comments

  • 2 years ago

    Golly that conclusion makes me want to sign up for a missions trip, Sharon: “I went to love strangers, only to find myself loved as a stranger. And the beauty of it? By loving like that, we stop being strangers. By living with outstretched arms, we find sweet spots—new places in a space of grace. That’s the beauty of hospitality.” I need to open my arms wide for the people closest to me, and the people farthest away.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Ann,
      It would be great to go on a missions trip with you; sign me up!
      You know, hospitality took on a new meaning after Guatemala. I learned that outstretched arms return filled with many blessings! Love you, Ann.
      Your Friend,
      Sharon

  • Susie Balas
    2 years ago

    I love, love reading your stories. xo

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Thanks, Susie. Wished you lived closer! Would love to see you.

  • Richard Pelley
    2 years ago

    Sharon: You have written beautifully. It has been my pleasure to have been the Founder and first Director of Frontlines Missions beginning in 1989. Due to age, 80 and now 85, I transferred the Directorship to Pastor Tony Palow, in agreement with the Board of Directors. Frontlines is a small missions organization doing a “big” work. From the distant town of Esquintla, on the Pacific Coast, to Poptun in the northeast, to Campur in the north, to twelve miles from the El Salvador border, much has been accomplished for the peoples of Guatemala and the Kingdom of God. It has certainly been a pleasure to have been called to start this work, a story in itself. :Pastor Dick Pelley

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Pastor Dick,
      I am so honored that you read my story and made comment. I was blessed to hear your story through Iris, as she spoke one evening in Guatemala. So glad she made the trip. I look forward to seeing her later this fall at Centerpoint’s Women’s Retreat. Thank you for all you did to bring Frontlines to where it is today. Tony and Susan do amazing work as they carry on where you left off.

  • Susan Blount
    2 years ago

    Great read, Sharon – and I, too, miss Guatemala every day. Planning a team for April next year. Would love to have you come to our Christian Writer’s Group. Next meeting is Oct. 10 here at my house. 1 – 4 in the afternoon. If you’d like to receive notifications just give me your email address. God bless. Susan

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Susan, Thank you. Guatemala and her people rest in my heart. I will go again sometime soon. The writing brings it all back to life and helps me discover new meaning. Yes, I will send you my email. God Bless! Sharon

  • Pat
    2 years ago

    Sharon, you are remarkable. Your story is so inspiring and doesn’t leave anything not described as if you were right there experiencing every step. God certainly has given you a great gift .

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Thank you Pat!

  • Dianne Earnest
    2 years ago

    Missions always changes your life, I have been on 19 trips oversees on medical mission trips and each time I ask God what he wants to show me or learn , He always has something new for me. Sometimes it is deep rooted and hurts but other times is is a beautiful new insight. You have the mission fever now, it will rage within you until you can go again.
    I enjoy reading your posts. Blessings.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Dianne, I’ll bet you have some tremendous memories! Don’t they just warm your soul?

  • Tara Boulais
    2 years ago

    That was Beautiful! !! I’m looking forward to this upcoming March

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Thanks Tara.

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