“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:” -1 Peter 4:10
When my New Jersey church recruited me for my first mission trip to Guatemala, I knew it wasn’t just because of my dynamic personality and good looks. I had no experience in foreign missions. In fact, except for a few cruise ship excursions, I had never been out the country before.
But what I did have was a particular set of skills acquired over a long career. I was a nurse and the team needed one badly for their clinic.
If I didn’t go to Guatemala, I probably would have eventually wound up in a medical mission somewhere else. I had Haiti on my mind and a friend was pushing hard for me to go to Africa. It is pretty easy to find a mission option when you have medical skills. Teachers, engineers and agriculture experts also have an easy time finding mission organizations to join.
But what if you’re not a professional in one of
these widely-needed fields?
Yesenia and I just spent a week with a couple of guys from Wisconsin. One of them wanted to come to Guatemala and “do something” with our mission. He retired years ago and bought a farm. He has sixty acres of apples, lavender and plums.
We received a call asking us what we thought he could do to help our neighborhoods. Before we could come up with something, a farmer friend of his explained square-foot farming. The friend had worked in Nicaragua for a group called Farmer-to-Farmer. They had a system where a square meter of garden space could provide year-round vegetables. The result was a presentation of how to make organic soil with items readily available in most of Guatemala; followed by an explanation of square foot farming. It was enthusiastically received by dozens of mothers around our service areas.
Back in February, I ran into an American woman in a small coffee community near Lake Atitlan. She explained how she turned her hobby of bee-keeping into a year of mission work. By teaching local residents how to raise bees and make honey, she helped provide a more consistent income for many families.
Her efforts also created a buffer for families affected by the recent coffee blights. The honey income also eliminated the need for some coffee farmers to migrate to other parts of the country during their off-season to work on other crops. Of course the bees also love coffee flowers and provide an excellent pollination service.
Both of these people received grants from government organizations to pay for their travel. But sometimes we have skills that the government may not buy into. It doesn’t make the skill any less valuable.
A fisherman from Florida taught a bunch of single mothers how to make fishing lures. Several groups help local communities make and sell dolls, clothes and hair products. Individuals and groups have come down to help small groups start businesses with products like these; which are then sold in the markets and/or the USA.
Maybe your skill is in teaching or presenting? Three teenagers spent last summer teaching English to preschoolers in Atitlan. A retired trash collector is promoting recycling principals in Chimaltenango. A motorcycle enthusiast helped mechanics hone their repair skills in the Livingston area.
In the capital city, dozens of street and market vendors learned basic marketing methods and some common English phrases to help them deal with tourists. Are you good with a hammer or concrete? Habit for Humanity is not just a United States entity. Search for their Guatemala website and sign on up!
Some people just have a message they really want to share. By contacting larger churches for scheduling help, a married couple has told their testimony to hundreds of small churches in eleven countries. Women empowerment, domestic abuse, child welfare and education are topics you may find a willing sponsor for here in Guatemala. (USAID, Unicef, and Global Relief are among the large organizations pushing these agendas.)
Finding a need and striving to fill it has kicked off many a mission trip. Collecting shoes, sewing machines, school supplies, and hygiene items will get you invited to many churches or missions. Collecting funds to purchase water filters or smoke-free cooking stoves are another wonderful project. If you don’t have a mission in mind, you can google “water” and “stove” along with Guatemala to find organizations to work with.
Of course, spreading His Word literally is also a skill. If you wanted to spend a week or a month walking the streets or doing little projects with the goal of evangelizing, there are a plethora of churches and mission groups who would love to host you.
But the best part of this is that even if you only have the desire to serve, there are groups who only require a smile to join their projects. Playing with children, counting tablets for medical clinics, serving food, praying, blowing up balloons, carrying boxes, handing out clothes or shoes, painting a wall…these are all things we asked people to help us with last year.
The point is, there is bound to be something you know how to do that can be used to benefit others who are less fortunate or in need of help.
Think about what you do for a living, your hobbies, anything you enjoy. Can you teach someone to draw or paint? Can you fix things? Can you organize a store room for a food pantry or clinic? Can you entertain people? Can you develop efficient alternative fuel sources for millions of indigenous people?
Okay! Most of us can’t do that last one; but most of us can do something.
As Paul said to the Corinthians: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
As summer mission teams start to gear up, why don’t you think about sharing what you have to offer? It doesn’t matter if it is a big project or small. It doesn’t matter if you go overseas, drive into the city, or walk right down the block. Pray on how you can contribute to the common good this year! Then share your gift as best you can. You’ll be glad you did.