I really do love missionary work. I find it inspiring, incredible, and meaningful. There have been times in my life where the experience had been glued to my memory for years, even decades, to come. I took my first trip to Guatemala just a few years ago, and it’s shaped so much of my love for helping others, for service, and for really just believing in the human ability to make a positive, lasting difference in the world.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from that trip, for me, was about midway through the week, our team rode in vans, as we usually did, across these long dirt roads that bypassed the hills of Guatemala with an increasing number of fields and farmland. You could tell since the people, cows, pigs, dogs, and all other sorts of animals just walked across the roads freely as they chose to, with minimal road signs, delegated walkways, and hardly anything rules at all. The area had been mostly empty land and people in ragged, degraded clothing. There was hardly much technology or advances to improve the quality of life there that are usually abundant in places like Japan, Germany, and the United States included. Our driver was a woman named Jodi, one of the missionaries we stayed with while we spent the week, and she told us stories about Guatemalan life as she drove, giving us more insight on what their lives were really like. We, being young outsiders exposed to social media and the explosion of technology that has taken over the century, didn’t know a whole lot about having to work laboriously daily sometimes without even knowing what your daily pay could be. It was a lifestyle we never really got a chance to comprehend and put ourselves in their shoes. She was very upfront; describing it as a way of culture for Guatemalans to love their work and truly appreciate every little thing, a quality often overlooked in nations that are already developed with advanced technology.
Yet something always unique about Guatemalans is how they were always willing to lend a hand to their neighbors and help people when needed, even lending a hand to our team despite us being outsiders who came specifically to help them. They welcomed us and showed us love, cause that’s just who they were on a fundamental and cultural level, which opened my eyes a lot. I found it to be really telling about their culture, and I really do think Jodi couldn’t have described it better.
But moreover than just her description of the culture, she also told us something that really resonated with me ever since I heard it from her lips. She told us that “4/5s of the world lived the way these Guatemalans lived,”as she pointed over to the impoverished, empty lands that passed us by from the view of the window. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that what she told us meant only 1/5 of the world lived the way the U.S. lived, with technology and advancement that improved our quality of life on all fronts. It opened my eyes so much; her words spoke out to me over anything else as I was face-to-face with a newer, different kind of culture before my very eyes. I’ve shared this with friends, people online, and even in front of large crowds before, and it opened their eyes as much as it did mine. I wasn’t faced with poverty every day, but those missionaries were, which means its that much more significant and imperative for them that the message of service and love is made known.
Seeing poverty like that for myself and understanding, now after what Jodi told us, that most of the world lived like that made me realized the world really isn’t rich. Citizens across the world are impoverished, and the wealth of the world is condensed only to the minority, to the developed countries of the world. I was vaguely aware of any of this growing up, but hearing of this only gave me a greater sense of empathy, and my entire trip to Guatemala really brought out the true purpose of serving. Service isn’t blindly giving to others. Service isn’t just doing good acts just to tell people about it later. Service isn’t just random kindness. Service is selflessly humbling yourself to understand the difficulties and battles of someone else facing them, and resolving to help them through it. Mission trips are true eye-openers that leave sentiments etched into your heart for years to come that now I truly understand, from my first trip to Guatemala especially, what it means to be grateful.