Guatemala Mission Trip: Managing Expectations

beautiful countryWith a big question mark, I gazed at the two suitcases resting on the truck’s backseat.

Am I forgetting something?

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.

waiting line

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.

walking to villagemom and children Photo taken by Cindy Lanoue Colette. Used with her permission.

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?

carrying cement Photo taken by Jim Gudaitis. Used with his permission.

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.

changing heartsNow 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.


  • Lori Reynolds
    7 years ago

    Sharon, your words catapulted me right back to Guatemala where our comforts of home were soon forgotten. Yet in Campur “home” took on a new meaning. For me, it meant putting personal comforts aside, and instead, focusing on the precious people God had sent us to be with. As the Evangelism team went out each day, being bounced in the back of a tiny pick-up truck to reach our remote locations, when we reached the schools, joy took on a whole new meaning. To see the children running to meet us, touching us, having such expectation in their eyes, Matthew 19:14 came to life for me that says, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Right then and there I felt the love of God well up and pour out of me like never before.

    As you said, “Jesus walked not by His expectations, but by the desires of His Father.” We too, can live this way no matter where we are. We don’t have to be on a mission field 2400 miles away to say to God, “Show me Your desire for these people and lead me to love them like You do.” We can be Jesus’ hands and feet no matter where we are when we put our own expectations aside and open our hearts to loving people through the eyes of God.

    • Sharon Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Lori, Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts with me and the readers. Well said. Yes, I agree — we can be Jesus’ hands and feet no matter where we are. I love the idea of ‘missionizing’ my heart for the people I come in contact with every day.

  • Cathy Thompson, Madison, Maine, USA
    7 years ago

    When on my mission trip to Ecuador, I met a lovely lady named Martha, who was a nurse and had been in the mission field of Ecuador over 50 years. She was such a practical woman, speaking of God as a tangible person/friend/husband/provider. She introduced to me the concept of practical Christianity. Where there is a need, fill it. Period. I had been “seeking God” for what He would have me do, where and how He would have me to serve. I was over-spiritualizing. Martha taught me this concept: “See the need, meet the need.” Period. She said God had provided all she had needed over the years. She arrived in Ecuador with nothing, and now she oversees a medical clinic, high school, elementary school, several-acre fenced-in compound. She has adopted over 25 abandoned babies and raised them all over the years to become productive young people. God gave her everything she needed. Just meeting Martha was a life-changer for me.

    • Sharon Gibbs
      7 years ago

      Cathy, how true! Mission work taught me so many incredibly valuable lessons, including the one I wrote about here. Now, my eyes are more open to the needs around me everyday. I recall the conversation you and I had a few weeks ago… how important it is to see and serve the needs in the communities we live in. Martha sounds like a special lady, I am sure knowing her was a life-changer. Thank you for sharing this. “See the need, Meet the need.” I will remember this.

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