We must have looked very strange. Three Guatemalan girls and two 6 foot plus American guys walking down a mountain path on our way to the town grinder with one small bowl of corn. It was the middle of the afternoon and Lillian, Heidy, and Jenifer’s mom had sent them to grind their corn so they could have tortillas for dinner. Walking down the path, I began to notice that there were many other children doing the same walk, with a similar bowl of corn. I realized this must be a normal task that occurs every day before dinnertime all across Guatemala. My friend Drew and I had thought it would be a fun “field trip” while we waited for our team to finish a bunk bed for the family, but this wasn’t a field trip for the girls. This was their afternoon chore. This was a small part of their everyday activities that we had been allowed to take part in. Knowing the true purpose of this walk, the small bowl of corn suddenly seemed incredibly valuable, and Drew and I knew we were doing something special. We were participating in the lives of relative strangers, as though we were family. We had been given access to their home and they had responded with open arms.
As a project coordinator, I spend most of my time lining up specifics for our teams. I ensure we have food and water and construction supplies, and I am always concerned about the team and the project. Standing on the top of a mountain in a village outside of Antigua Guatemala, I was able to briefly forget project specifics, and just enjoy an afternoon with my new friends. At the end of the week it was this memory that I remembered the most. It wasn’t the 20 or so bags of food that the team delivered, or the gallons of paint that we spread on the walls, or even the masterfully crafted bunk bed that the girls hopefully enjoyed after we left them. What I remembered the most was learning about the lives of one Guatemalan family.
Life in Guatemala can be hard, especially for children. During that same project I was introduced to a family of seven (mom, dad, and 5 children) who supported themselves by chopping wood and selling it in the market. Everyone age 5 and up would go out into the hills and chop wood. They would then carry the wood into town and sell it in 25 pound bundles for $3 a bundle. In Guatemala many poor children are expected to go to work instead of go to school. Most families cannot afford to send their children to school, and some are so desperate that they count on the children to pull their own weight financially in order to have enough food to eat. In conditions such as this, it is easy to see how the country can have the highest rate of illiteracy of North and South America. This is a country with many needs.
Mission Discovery teams are working with local missionaries in Antigua Guatemala to provide a different future for children like Lillian, Heidy, and Jenifer. By addressing the most basic of needs, families are able to allow their children to attend schools. By attending schools, these children have a drastic advantage over their parents. With even a high school degree, these children will be able to get a job as a teacher or work as a clerk in a store or bank. With a high school degree, these children can break the poverty cycle that has been repeating for generations.
Back on the mountain, walking back from the grinder, I was reminded of how important it is to take the time to learn the stories of those we meet. When you invest in the story of another person, you will always gain something in return. A name, a face, the way the tortillas smelled as the cooked on the crude stove, these are reminders of Guatemala and a generation of children that need others to fight with them for a better future. I am praying a special prayer for my friends Lillian, Heidy, and Jenifer. I pray that they stay in school, and that God blesses their lives. I pray that tonight they have enough food to eat. And I pray that more people will join me in Guatemala for a walk to the local grinder.