The first job I ever had was working for the Salvation Army. They paid minimum wage to anyone that would stand outside of a Walmart or shopping mall, ring a bell, and collect donations. I was fourteen years old and I worked everyday of Thanksgiving break, as well as each Saturday leading up to Christmas. I enjoyed it, loved it even. I chose it.
The first jobs of children in Guatemala are quite different from my experience. (I imagine that is the case for many children throughout the world.) Guatemalan educators struggle to keep kids in school. The demand for extra hands in the fields or selling trinkets in the tourist towns engulfs the schools throughout Guatemala. I knew all of this. I had heard the testimonies, I’ve read the stories, I’ve been to Cairo and Cozumel and seen plenty of kids working. Intellectually, up in my brain I knew this already. But not in my heart, not yet. I had shielded my heart from knowing it, perhaps on accident, or subconsciously, but shielded nonetheless. One could call me blind, if they so desired.
I don’t miss school. The weight of homework and writing assignments and bells controlling my everyday schedule, I don’t miss it at all. But I remember the joy of getting school supplies before the new school year began. It was a joy that lasted through most of elementary school. Picking out pencils and pens, choosing notebooks, picking a trapper keeper – yep, loved those moments. I had to get the supplies because I needed it for school. And even though there were years in my family’s life that were sparse financially, we always, always had what we needed.
On Wednesday, in Guatemala, I had the chance to sit down with the Principal for the school in Chuluc. Together with a few other missionaries, Pastor Jorge, Principal Moses, and our mission guide Jake we met for nearly three hours. We talked about a ton of stuff. Mostly we were trying to listen and learn. Mission work is always tough, but in a foreign country, with foreign customs, a great idea could actually be a terrible mistake. So we met, we asked questions, lots of them, and listened to long, informative answers. The meeting was a blessing for all involved. We learned about the Guatemalan school system, water issues, and cultural struggles with keeping children in school. We also learned about school supplies.
I saw a woman walking barefoot on the streets of Antigua. She wasn’t a native there. She wasn’t a tourist either. I discovered while being here how many people end up backpacking through central America. I’ve seen tons of them in Antigua, Guatemala. Most of them young adults, scrapping by, finding jobs as they need them, moving from city to city, from country to country. This young lady walked barefoot by choice. She strolled down the street with a dog on a leash and a hiking stick in the other hand. Beside her was another “traveler,” what I’ve been calling them being as “tourist” seems entirely inappropriate a term, talking about his decision to live in Guatemala for a season. The crowded streets make it easy to hear one another’s conversations, and seeing as how they spoke English, it was the only conversation of interest at the time.
The gift of reading was something I didn’t appreciate when I was young. I suppose I never truly appreciated it until today. We had the unique opportunity to meet with education administrators from all over Guatemala at a small pubic school, not far from the village of Chuluc. Thirty four principals sat waiting in a classroom for a group teachers from Huntsville, Alabama. I was with them as a pastoral representative from our church. The conversation was incredibly informative and overwhelming to say the least.
Out of thirty four school represented, only three of them had clean water. The three schools with clean water all had their filtration systems installed by Mission Firefly (check them out here). Every school struggled to have support, fight dropout rates, and provide adequate attention for students with special needs. They struggle to get kids past the 6th grade, most start working in the cities or fields by that age. They struggle with teaching to read. Ask a young child in a rural village or one of the slums of Guatemala what they want to be when they grow up and they will not answer you. A blank stare of confusion will be their only response. They have no concept of being anything other than what they know.
The hour drive from Antigua to the remote village of Chuluc winds through mountains and volcanoes. There could not be a more striking difference than the cobblestone roads of touristy Antigua and the dirt paths that weave throughout Chuluc. Under the narrow awning of La Escuela de Chuluc we gathered for worship. Songs sung in both spanish and english created a beautiful sound and then I preached.
The hours leading up to me standing in front of the villagers of Chuluc were filled with a mixture of emotions: fear, excitement, humility, reflection, unworthiness. How could I preach to them? What can I possibly say to a people living in such poverty? Honestly the overwhelming question floating around in my mind was, Who do you think you are?
It was a journey, a miniature journey in the middle of my larger journey here in Guatemala. The humility that I felt was holy and good. Humility comes from the Lord. The self doubt that I felt was evil and wrong. Self doubt comes from somewhere else!
The smell of savory spices are flooding my nose right now. I’m sitting on the rooftop of our hotel in Antigua Guatemala. The sounds of people shuffling about the street, music, languages of all kinds fill the cool night air. The roof is peaceful and strangely dark for a city that’s still lit up. It has been a day of hurrying and waiting. That’s how most mission trips start.
We departed our church in Alabama at 3:15 in the morning for a four hour bus ride to Atlanta. Hurry up, get to the bus, and wait.
We arrived at the airport, got our tickets, checked our bags, made our way through the many checkpoints that make up modern airports, and hurried to find our gate. Hurry up, get to the gate, and wait.
I’m heading to Guatemala right now. Well, to be more precise, I’m on a school bus right now, riding to Atlanta, and then I’m flying to Guatemala. Mission work is our goal. In one week our team of 20 plus missionaries hope to build two houses, install a water filtration system, host a large Vacation Bible School, train some teachers, and share the love of Christ. That’s the plan at least, mission trips require a lot of flexibility. I know that. I’m sure God will guide us.
The work will be hard, the calling is humbling. I am excited to travel and to see a part of the world that is new to my eyes. I’m eager to encounter whatever God has prepared for me. I hope to do some writing while there. Perhaps even a blog or two. Stay tuned.
This past valentines day I reached the mark of six years in youth ministry, all with my church here in Alabama. Shortly after crossing that threshold a friend asked me if I felt like a veteran youth minister now. My answer: “no, not really.”
Six years ago I moved to Alabama to accept a full time position as a minister. But just a year prior to that I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.
I had moved across the country to attend seminary at Gardner-Webb University in order to become a professor and teach in biblical studies. Two years into that masters program I knew my path was not that of a professor. I was preaching a good amount on Sunday mornings, largely pulpit supply for Pastors on vacation or sick. I attended a wonderful little church that allowed me to preach fairly often. I also preached a few youth events, mostly small youth rallies or disciple now weekends. But my path seemed awfully unclear. I didn’t consider youth ministry a possibility at all, too small for me. (Wow, even typing the words make me feel gross.)
God sent two things into my world that changed all of that: Dara and C.O.R.E.. One of my fellow seminarians was a lady named Dara. She had become my friend the very first day of seminary. In many ways she took care of myself and my two roommates – even at the age of 22 all of us needed a bit of taking care of. I knew her pretty well but hadn’t realized how great a minister she was, not yet.
Have you ever sat around watching infomercials or left the channel on just long enough to have their words burned onto your brain? Some bearded dude selling knives screaming “but wait, there’s more!” What starts as selling a set of kitchen knives becomes a collection of one hundred blades; including saws, samurai swords, and ninja stars. Each moment you think he’s done, he’s not. There’s always more. Not exactly the most interesting television available, I’ll admit.
Shark vacuum cleaners have been the subject of such shows. They demonstrate their sucking strength versus other vacuum cleaners live on television. They appear to be quite impressive; at least as far as vacuums go. The day came that we needed a new vacuum. Someone in our house (me) accidentally threw away a little (incredibly vital) part of the vacuum; thus a new purchase was made. And, you guessed it, we bought a Shark.
But wait, there’s more.
The vacuum is impressive. Seriously, it’s a great buy. The house looks great. But I’ll warn you. If you run over an iPhone charger while using a Shark Vacuum, that charger is toast! Stripped the rubber right off, like husking corn on the cob. Nothing but bare wires and (literally) bent metal prongs from where the adapter ripped out of the socket.
If you’ve ever stepped onto a raft or slid into a kayak and dared to face the white water then it’s likely you’ve been taught the classic rule of safety known as “nose and toes.” The logic is sound and simple. If you fall out of your vessel grab hold of your life jacket, float on your back, and make sure your nose and your toes are up out of the water.
On a beautiful summer morning I kayaked down the Hiwassee river with a group of college students and adults. The river was fast and cold. Most of the journey personified peace: tranquil scenes, slow moving pace, crystal clear water, grand conversations. The scattered white water presented nerve racking, yet exhilarating commercial breaks. I coasted through the first few rapids without falling. Well over an hour into the journey most of our group had capsized at some point, I proudly had not. Yet.
The water churned, it’s voice grew louder. The fall before us looked deadly (it was not!). One after another I watched people tumble over trying to navigate the 5 foot drop.
Steer to the right.
There you go.
You got this Rob.
HERE WE GO.
My kayak slid right, I leaned right to compensate, but it was too late. Man over board. I need to be clear here, I was in no real danger. But as you may guess, that truth does not truly register in the moment itself.