Insecure, lonely, excited, and anxious, I hugged my family goodbye 97 days ago and got on a plane in Minnesota. I lugged my suitcase out of the airport into the warm sunshine of Guatemala City on February 1st, and since then I have been on a journey of self-exploration, of sacrifice, of heartache and blessings and love.
On May 23rd, the rest of my group will board a plane in Guatemala City and be back in the United States on that day. After spending four months studying, living, working, struggling, and serving God together, we will be disbanded.
As this separation looms closer and closer, I get progressively more aware of how difficult it will be. My initial reaction was that yes, it will be difficult, but it will be fine. And that is a coolly, generically accurate description of what will take place. I am realizing now how connected I have become to these 23 companions. While these people in no way displace my friends that I had before, every single person on this trip has created a place for themselves in my heart that will never be erased. I am not ready to say goodbye to these friends who have helped me through struggles, who have shared chapstick and laughter and a hug when I desperately need one, who have persevered through difficult classes and all-nighters with me, who have cared for me when I have been sick and who have trusted me enough to let me care for them in turn.
Four months ago, I was angsting about how to say goodbye to my friends at Bethel. Now I am realizing that while saying goodbye to them was hard, I will be back at Bethel. I will see most of those people again in the same setting. But the connection with these 23 friends will be forever changed. I might grow closer to certain people after this trip, and I might drift away from others as time goes on. However, after this semester is over, I will never sit in a bus with all of these friends, hurtling down the road and praying that passing vehicles on a turn will not lead to our death. There will be no more wandering through markets in a group while avoiding the eager gaze and chatter of persistent vendedores. In February, this trip seemed interminable. It would last forever, I would never see my family again, and these strangers with me would be strangers for the whole trip.
This portion of my journey is about to end. All drama aside, I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity that I have had to come here, to live and study in Guatemala. There is so much good here. So much good in this town of Magdalena Milpas Altas, this house of the Mendez family, this country of Guatemala, this microfinance ministry site, this group of students-turned-family.
And yet, I am restless. I am past culture shock; I am past desperately longing for my family and friends back home. But I am a stranger in a strange land, and no matter how much time I spend at ministry sites or in home visits or in class learning about the country, I still feel this way. I am very much a temporary student. When I was in Antigua, my host nephew was surprised when I came back after a weekend trip. “I thought you had already left, and that new people would be coming instead.” That really put my semester into perspective for me.
I am passing through here. While I might feel astonishment now that week-long mission trips make such a dramatic impact on people’s lives, I know that really, four months is not a huge amount of time either. I want to make a difference. I want to wiggle my way into the hearts of my host families here and have them do the same to me. I want to have the homeless lady on 4a. Calle remember me. I want to change the world. And then I start thinking and I convince myself that no, nothing I do here will make much of a difference. While that might be true if I let it, what could happen if I choose not to let that happen? What if I actively choose to make a difference? And making a difference isn’t even the point. I want to live for Jesus, loving others actively and radically, leaving a wake of evidence that points to God.
As I anticipate the next phase of my adventure, I again feel insecure, lonely, excited, and anxious. I will be moving to a new country, with new people, with a new set of skills needed and a new vocabulary and new opportunities… and it terrifies me. But looking back on this semester, God has been so good. So good. I have been provided for many times over, and I have been changed in ways I could not have begun to predict. And as I grow more anxious about Honduras, God draws me closer to himself. When I was feeling nervous about interacting with children day-in and day-out, he gave me three separate encounters in one day with children who absolutely melted my heart and changed my attitude from resentful and nervous to eager and hopeful. When I was nervous about teaching classes, he gave me conversations that made it painfully obvious how much I love teaching, and especially how much I love teaching languages and sharing about the Bible. I am still nervous; two more months away from my family and my dogs and my bed and my friends and my everything familiar seems really big right now. But I’m not afraid anymore. I do not have to be insecure about this trip, or anything in my future, because I know now where my security is.
I serve a radical God who loves me more than I could ever imagine, provides more than I deserve, and pushes me beyond my limits every single day. He is bigger than any difficulty I have faced in the last 97 days, or that I will face in the days to come. 1 John 3:20 says, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” God is bigger than six months away from my family. God is bigger than a language barrier. God is bigger than my fear and loneliness and insecurity. 1 John 3:1 exclaims, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Through all of the stresses that I have encountered on this trip, and through every hard thing that will happen in the weeks and months to come, God is lavishing his love on me and on you.