In June of 2010, I was ready to work some magic with a short-term mission team in Guatemala. God performed several little miracles to bring me here. It was obviously because He knew these people needed what I had to offer. I was destined to save Guatemala. Little did I know, Guatemala was about to save me!
The normally lush mountains surrounding San Lucas Toliman were striped with the shiny, brown ribbons of recent mudslides. It was obvious that the hurricane had not spared the town. We would learn that hundreds of homes were swept away by the floods, swallowed by the fallen earth, or simply crushed beneath the weight of the boulders loosed by the mudslides. Dozens of people perished.
Our routine short term mission trip would have to become somewhat of a rescue mission. Our Guatemalan partners had managed to ship hundreds of bundles of food and blankets to our base of operations. These would be distributed to people sheltering at schools and other public buildings throughout the town. We started right away.
Our first stop was a meeting hall, really nothing more than four metal walls and a tin roof. 28 families were staying there. Each family was provided with a single foam pad mattress. They were forced to use neighbors’ toilets and showers because there was no plumbing. They shared a common cooking area they pieced together in front of the entrance. Most of the refugees told harrowing stories of escape from their inundated homes. They had nothing but the clothes on their back and what little they could salvage from the mud.
As we approached the site, representatives from each family mustered on the street in front of us. They had been staying in the shelter for a couple of weeks by now. They must have been exhausted, anxious, and starving. We arrived with one bag of food and one blanket for each family. Each bag contained corn flour, corn oil, beans, rice, some sugar, salt, and butter. I remember thinking about how meager our gifts must seem to these families. They needed so much more!
Our pastor started to speak to the crowd. It was then that I could see the condition of these people. I was stunned. All I saw was joy. Wide, happy smiles gleamed from the bronzed faces of each person standing there. As our pastor spoke of the importance of faith and finding good in the face of evil, cries of “Alleluia!” and “Amen” resonated from the crowd.
One of the refugees spoke to us. He told us how everyone had been praying hard and were confident that God would get them through this burdensome time. They had prayed that the world would not ignore them or forget them. Our team, with our much-needed gifts, was God’s answer to their prayers. They knew now that the people did care about their Guatemalan brothers and sisters. We gave them renewed hope. All of this was happening because of their prayers and faith in God.
Then we all were to pray together. So, I closed my eyes, bowed my head and got ready to make a passionate plea for all these wonderful people amidst the silence of people praying. Except that there was no silence. This was the first time I witnessed the Pentecostal tradition of Christians praying their individual prayers out loud. It was an amazing sight to behold. The passion of the people was electric. The prayers were fervent and powerful. People cried and wailed and reached out. It was as if they each felt that were standing in front of Jesus Himself, praising Him, thanking Him, and pleading their case before Him. The passion and the faith of these people were so….. real.
I don’t know how long this went on for, but it wasn’t until I tasted my own tears that I realized I was just staring at them with my mouth wide open. I didn’t understand at first why I was crying. But then it hit me; I REALLY need what THEY have.
Life hasn’t been the same since.