Changing Lives in Guatemala

Changing Lives in Guatemala

I wrote this column from my bunk bed in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, where our church has been involved in significant mission and ministry for many years. We have been able to build 67 houses (6 more on the way) and sponsor over 400 children and seniors over the years. Being here is both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. Thirty-one of us made the trip last week.

In a country that has immense third-world poverty and many basic challenges, certain questions always run through my mind when I am here. In a land of so little, how is their faith so strong? Why do they seem so joyful and full of gratitude? Why don’t they give into despair and hopelessness? Why is the family unit so strong? Are the Guatemalans even aware of what they don’t have? Why do they seem much more joyful and peaceful than those of us blessed with so much?

The truth is we all take many aspects of our lives for granted. I don’t think we intend to, but in reality, we do. Basic shelter, clean drinking water, refrigerators, heat and AC in our homes, quality education, transportation, and access to health care are a few things that come to mind. I have stated in both books and sermons that “social comparison is the primary thief of joy.” In the U.S., we always seem to compare ourselves to those who have more – more money, a bigger house, nicer cars, exotic lifestyles. “Affluenza” as it has been referred to before can leave us feeling inadequate, restless, and always wanting more. But gratitude must become a way of life – gratitude for the basic blessings we so easily take for granted every day. Should it take traveling to a third-world country to put things into proper perspective? No, but sometimes it does.

One of the indisputable facts about Christianity is that Jesus cared deeply for the poor and the marginalized. In quoting the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4, Jesus said that he had come to bring “good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.” Those who seek to follow him must become serious about these words. As American culture becomes more materialistic and self-absorbed, living to serve others is less common. I have certainly not mastered it by a long shot, but I do know that serving and sacrificing for others lies at the heart of any healthy faith. It’s the primary way we find meaning and fulfillment.

The various ways we choose to do this are always up to us. Nobody else can tell us if we are doing enough. But having been here this past week with my wife, three children, and a number of close friends, I continue to learn a lot from the Guatemalan people. These lessons include the fact that real poverty is living without hope. Moving beyond self is much more challenging than many people care to admit. Being fully present is a gift to others. Gainful employment is a blessing but is not a reality for many people in the world. Entitlement is always dangerous. Building a house is not the same thing as building a home. All the money in the world can’t bring you real community and authentic relationships. Gratitude is a daily choice. Once again, I’m thankful to have been reminded of these important lessons that we so easily forget.