Twenty seven summers ago I boarded an airplane to Guatemala with a group of college students from my church. I was twenty years old and had never been out of the country. Which, in retrospect, seems a rather obvious oversight for a woman claiming she wanted to be an overseas missionary. Nonetheless, I joined the trip at the last minute thanks to a full scholarship provided by an anonymous donor. Someone believed I needed to experience this trip.
As I began the last leg of the journey from Houston to Guatemala City it finally dawned on me I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I was spiritually, emotionally and mentally unprepared for what lay ahead and I knew it. Unbeknownst to most others in the group, this trip was not just the beginning of the summer for me, it was the last thing I would do before entering in-patient treatment for my eating disorder. As I gazed out the plane window into the expanding night, I felt my emotions slowly turn off like the programs on my desktop and I dozed off to sleep.
When I awoke we were landing in a foreign land. I was disoriented and exhausted. We met our hosts, loaded our things and headed to our hotel. There was too much to take in. Too many smells, too many cars moving in too chaotic a path, too many people staring at my blond hair. That first night I dreamed about food and throwing up and I awoke more exhausted than when I'd gone to bed. This had all been a terrible mistake.
But as the week wore on my emotional shield sometimes lowered without me noticing and I felt more alive than I could remember. I'm not sure what this trip was supposed to be, but what it turned out to be was our little group being billed as a small choir and we toured city churches, village churches, a military chapel service and even the presidential palace --singing.
I had never known someone who didn't speak English as a first language or at all so I didn't know that it was possible to love someone you couldn't even talk to. But, wow, did I love--in the messy, broken way I was capable of at the time--but it was more than I knew was in me.
And then, long before I was ready, it was time to leave and I realized I had let down my guard and I had experienced happiness in the midst of pain and mess and I had experienced God ministering to my soul through people who couldn't speak my language, many of whom were uneducated and poor, and I knew I would never be the same.
And here I am again.
After that first trip, I returned four more times within a ten year period. Our hosts became like family and this country became part of my emotional healing, ultimately helping to nurture the love of different cultures and people that I have today. It has now been eighteen summers since I was last on Guatemalan soil. From my arrival at the airport is has seemed almost a different country, but the love I have for this place and these people came quickly rushing back. Thankfully, Guatemala isn't the only one who's changed. I, too, am different. Two decades ago I came as an arrogant outsider; an expert. But today I come knowing less than before and saddened by my complete lack of understanding about God's heart for justice--not just charity. I can do charity. I can give money. I've gone so far as to personally visit people who are suffering injustice, but doing something about the injustice hasn't seemed a natural outflow of my Christian faith. Why? I don't exactly know. But I'm learning. Slowly.
And yet, I have to admit I'm afraid. I'm afraid I won't know what to do. Or worse, that I won't feel great compassion for others. That I'll remained detached and overwhelmed by the need. What if I remain unchanged? Lord, may it never be!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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