I picked up my carry-on. Before slinging it over my shoulder, I slipped one more article into the side pocket, something I now know I didn’t need in Campur: my personal expectations.
My expectations steeped in visions of a weeklong spiritual high, filled with joy during every act of service.
It started out that way. The Sunday altar call led me to pray with a mother and her five-year old son. She knelt at the altar, hands outstretched and touching the altar’s edge. She sobbed so hard her back heaved. I placed a hand on each of their shoulders. The boy turned his head toward me. His dark brown eyes glanced at me. As I prayed with closed eyes, I felt his little hand move on top of mine. He turned my hand palm upwards, and grasped it so we were palm to palm. His tiny fingers gripped my hand, as if he was asking for hope. I wept uncontrollably during the rest of my prayers. The Holy Spirit bathed me in love.
Monday morning arrived. By 7:45 a.m., 125 patients lined the muddy road waiting for medical care at the Casa Heidi Compassion Center – people who had walked for hours from the mountains to reach the clinic. Women and children wore sandals or crocks on their dusty feet. Mothers carried their babes on their backs in slings of bright colored fabric. Young girls carried infant siblings on their hips.
I felt such pressure to treat as many patients as I could. After all, we only had four days. I got lost in the hurry and tasks, robbed of joy.
Is this what mission work is about?
That evening our teams gathered for dinner. Clusters of excitement ricocheted around the dining hall. Everyone seemed pumped, filled with joy. Two teens shouted “Woot woot,” with hands raised in celebration. Oscar patted two of his team members on the back as he shared the day’s stories through his full-blown smile. I faded into the picnic table underneath me. I thought, “What am I missing? Where is the glory in this work?”
As a child, I never dove into the water, but rather painstakingly inched my way in. That night, I had water up my nose.
The Lord was getting my attention.
I settled into my sleeping bag that night, holding mental images of the other teams and their jobs. Each day, the construction crew leaves at dawn to build a church. They physically carry cement blocks, gravel, and water into the mountains, then labor in 90-degree temperatures one day and pouring rain the next. The cooking crew toils long hours in a tiny kitchen chopping vegetables, cooking food, and scrubbing dishes as they prepare three meals a day for 71 people. The dentists pull rotten or badly infected teeth from dozens of mouths, with three language barriers: English, Spanish, and Q’eqchi’.
Where is the spiritual joy?
That day I washed the infected lesions on the screaming four-month old boy, covered in scabies. What about when I wiped up the little girl’s parasite-filled vomit while another child’s cries pierced through the waiting room?
My concern wasn’t over the hard work this trip demanded of me. After all, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t work. I thought doing God’s work on my first mission trip would feel more spiritual, like seeing an abundant harvest.
Tuesday morning I returned to the clinic. I crossed the muddy road, tired from having diarrhea Monday night and feeling dirty after three days without a shower. The smoky smell of the Guatemalans’ burning trash filled my nostrils and seeped into my skin. I felt the pull of my sneakers in the sticky mud. With each step, I imagined the soles of Jesus’ sandals slipping in the mud, just as my sneakers were. I looked down at my dirty shoes.
God’s palpable presence grabbed my attention, again.
I remembered what Jesus did. He trudged through heat, rain and adversity. He felt hot, dirty and tired. He trudged through the human condition to provide us access to God, His Father. He persevered. Jesus walked not by His expectations, but by the desires of His Father.
He walked not by His expectations, but by the desires of His Father. Maybe part of God’s plan was to work on me!
With this, I felt honored to be there. I dropped my expectations and clung to His. Yes, His glory is in every act of service, only I may not always see or feel it. Someday, someone will witness that harvest – only God knows the person, place, and time.
My job is to build a foundation, plant seeds – in the way He desires – even if it sometimes feels like I am being sucked in the mud.
That day I began to experience love and joy in my work, as I never have. My week changed. So did I.
• I witnessed several Guatemalans accept the Lord as their Savior.
• Dillon, our EMT, and I prayed over Antony, an 11-year old boy diagnosed with a seizure disorder. After prayer, Antony lifted his bowed head, his face drenched with tears. I looked in his dark eyes. The word “Amor” moved from my heart to his ears. He hugged me long and tight.
• Matilda, the mother of 20-day old infant hugged me after I treated her baby’s raw, beefy-red diaper area.
• A 3-year old boy’s bright eyes flirted with me and melted my heart.
• I witnessed, each day, how the language of love was expressed through our actions, not our words.
Only God knows best what to do with the work He puts before us. It is not what we can do, but what He can do through us. He only asks that we be a willing vessel.
Now home, I aim to perform even what seem like the most ‘muddy’ of tasks in a different way, with a different heart – a missionized heart, guided by God’s expectations, not my own.
Photo taken by Cindy Lanoue Colette. Used with her permission.