Our mission team, the Guatemalan coordinator, the Guatemalan pastor, and an interpreter are all gathered in the church in Guatemala City. Carlo the digital tune master has cool sounds wafting in the background. Someone supplied us with instant coffee and pastries filled with cheese and ham. This meeting is to give us a chance to share our experiences: our five-day medical mission is over. We’d provided medical care and distributed food, among other things, to villagers in Tierra Linda.
“A lot of people don’t need food, they need love,” the coordinator tells us. “You don’t need to talk a lot to them – just your presence is enough. Children never forget someone playing with them, someone sharing their heart.”
The mission doctor, who’s a surgeon back home, stands. “I have problems at work and problems at home.” His self-control begins to disintegrate. “The problems affect my spiritual life. I was growing away from the Lord.” He grips the chair in front of him and looks down until he can talk without his voice cracking. “The harmony of the team has put things back in perspective.” He hugs a team member and sits down.
Dave helped in the dental clinic. He’s a storage facility manager in real life. He stands. “I have a confession to make.” His face is blotchy with raw emotion. “I expected to come here and see poor, lazy people. I was wrong.” He whips his glasses off to mop up tears with his sleeve. “I was wrong. They are industrious people with faith.”
Tom, a nurse, says, “This is where we come to have God work on our hearts.”
Many others on the mission team share their lessons learned. Some of the testifiers are men, many are women. All swab tears and struggle to tell their stories without breaking down.
Those of us listening are swallowing big lumps in our throats. The meeting has been going on a long time. I gotta go to the bathroom. Variations of the sentiment “It seems like we get more than we give,” reaches cliché status.
Then the Guatemalan pastor goes to the lectern. Carlo decreases the decibels of a jazz riff.
Reading our minds, the pastor asks, “In five days, what can you do?” The pastor’s question grabs our attention. “An earthquake that lasts five seconds can change people’s lives.”
Earthquakes are a regular phenomenon in Central America. I experienced one years ago in Taiwan that flattened tall buildings, pulverized villages, and rerouted rivers.
The pastor says, “You created a spiritual earthquake!”
Tears blur my vision.
Of course, the pastor is right. We call it “quality time” in the States. It’s not the amount of time we spent in Guatemala that made a difference in people’s lives. It’s what we did, sharing ourselves in Jesus’ name.
And now I’m thinking that the same is true no matter where we are. It’s how we share our hearts that matters, not how much clock time we eat up doing it.
The pastor ends with a phrase that rhymes in Spanish, and is translated as “You need courage to be different so you can make a difference.” He cites Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
It’s clear from everyone’s testimonies and the pastor’s comments that we received more than we gave. Or more accurately, we received something different from what we gave. A spiritual earthquake shredded our stereotypes, recalibrated mindsets, reset defaults.