By: Kjetil Odden
We made it through our first day. A great day, in my opinion. It was exceedingly entertaining and enjoyable, and we also got a relatively good idea regarding what sort of things will be going on throughout the rest of the week. Of course, everything is liable to change, as Shawn has made clear. But, barring unforeseen occurrences, it seems as if everything is in place to provide a successful, fun, and rewarding week for both us and those who we are serving. Most importantly, it is clear that everyone is glad to be here. I have seen nothing but positive attitudes and smiles, and, since this is my second year serving on this mission trip, I can guarantee that those smiles will only grow wider throughout the week. This is truly an incredible opportunity for us to spread God’s love and serve His people to the best of our abilities. Personally, though, I am confident that in the time we spend here, the gifts that we receive from the Guatemalan people will be far more meaningful than anything we could ever give to them. They will teach us how to live life to its fullest, and make the most out of the circumstances you are given. They will teach us how to be patient and kind, even when there is plenty of reason to be angry. They will teach us how to be thankful for all that we have, and not take a blessing from God lightly, no matter how small it may be. And, they will teach us how to be the kind of person that God will look down upon with pleasure.
Today, I had three experiences that led me to these conclusions. The first was when I walked into the girls’ home that was recently finished. I could not possibly find words to describe my amazement. What I can say, though, is that I felt a huge sense of accomplishment in seeing the finished product, even though my contribution to the building last year was quite small. It was absolutely incredible to see how wonderfully Karen has made her dream come true. The home really is a princess castle, just like Karen and the girls always wanted. The happiness that the home brings the girls is evident in the way that they greeted us and interacted with us today, taking us by the arm and proudly showing us around. As I got to see all parts of the home, my surprise and excitement continued to grow. The castle is breathtaking. There’s no other way to put it.
The second meaningful experience I had today was while my crew was being taught how to lay a stone path by the local Guatemalan workers. This is the project we will be working on completing for the next few days. For the majority of the time, I was listening to and observing don Miguel, who clearly has significant experience with this type of work. Unfortunately, he speaks Spanish. I speak English. The communication part of the lesson was difficult, to say the least. As I tried laying a few stones myself, I listened to him talk to me. I can guess with some confidence that he was kindly explaining to me what exactly I was doing wrong. The problem was, I had no clue whatsoever as to what he was saying. Sometimes my Spanish is decent enough to converse, but don Miguel was talking far too quickly for my American ears. I did my best, but it wasn’t easy. The amazing thing to me, which is what made this experience so meaningful, was the sincere kindness, patience, persistence, and humor that he showed with me. If I asked him to repeat something, he would repeat it as many times as I needed. If he needed to explain something in an easier way for me to understand, he did that, too. At times he just smiled and laughed, and even if he was laughing AT me, it made the experience fun. Finally, when he was satisfied with my work, he said something to the tune of, “ ¡Si, si, perfecto! ” The first thing that I thought was, “No it’s not.” But of course, I didn’t say that. I thanked him and smiled, again feeling a proud sense of accomplishment, no matter how small my triumph really was. The patient determination that he showed with me today helped me realize how enjoyable and helpful people can be when they follow God’s lead.
The third and final wonderful experience I had today was in the chapel during the boys’ music recital. I was sitting by myself, and soon after it started, I felt a tap on my back. When I turned around, there were three young boys there. I would guess all three were short of ten years old, and all three were watching the recital, with straight looks on their face. At first I was confused, thinking maybe I imagined something. When it happened again, though, I turned around to find all three of them smirking. Still, I had no clue who it was that was poking me. This routine continued on for quite some time, as they boys continued to poke or tap me and then blame each other. It was fun for all of us, smiling and goofing around as we played a silly but entertaining game. Whenever I would turn around fast enough and catch one of them, they would laugh hysterically. How could I not join in? They were adorable, smiley, and enjoying themselves. Between these three boys, I knew none of them, and didn’t even recognize any of them from last year. They were simply doing this to have fun, and thankfully for me, they dragged me into their fun, too.
Today was only the first day of what I’m sure will prove to be a hectic but life-changing week. Already I am amazed by the happiness and gratefulness of the people here. The kids really are something else. No matter how broken their lives may be, they know as well as anyone how to get the most out of their difficult circumstances. I can tell that I need to approach this week with an open mind and an open heart, because there is plenty to be taught and shared between us and Guatemala. I know that God brought me here for a reason last year, and I know that He had a reason to bring me back again. I am so incredibly thankful that He did. Today was just a taste of our journey, but already I can say with complete confidence that it is SO good to be back.