We want to tell you how happy we are to be here with you, how thankful we are for this opportunity to speak to you and how grateful we are to the staff and congregation of this church for the many amazing ways that you continue to support us in this mission that God has called us into.
The next thing I want to do is to tell you that I have never received such clear and well thought out goals for a message when I have been asked to speak in a church setting. Responding to Pastor Elizabeth’s thoughts for this message challenged and stretched us. We grew as we learned and interacted with others to help think through our answers. Her questions show me that God’s spirit moves within her. As your representatives in Guatemala we are ever grateful for her personal and public support. I pray that she continues to answer God’s call to serve here for many years to come.
We received Elizabeth’s thought provoking questions concerning what we have learned about discipleship, ourselves and the power of grace just over a month ago and we have been discussing them ever since. Our first thoughts were “How we will ever meet these expectations ?” In many ways, the answer to Elizabeth’s question about discipleship and the process that it took to arrive at the answer are one and the same. I feel that this process is based upon what I know of our United Methodist roots. It is also the very same process we used as we determined that we would answer God’s call to serve in Guatemala.
1. We put our faith in God and trust that God will guide and protect us.
2. We remind ourselves that God is Love.
3. We remember Jesus’ great commandments from Matthew 22 37-39
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
4. We pray…and listen carefully for God’s answers.
5. We talk with mentors and friends whom we love and respect. God often speaks through these people.
6. We use the Wesleyan quadrilateral of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience to evaluate our interpretation of God’s answers.
7. Then…We act.
In February of this year, we moved to Guatemala to help a small non-profit called International Hands in Service. Project Salud y Paz is a joint project of International Hands in Service along with the global United Methodist church and the Guatemalan National Primitive Evangelical Methodist Church. Project Salud y Paz runs clinics in 3 locations in Guatemala using a single Guatemalan staff of doctors, dentists, lab techs, pharmacy and registration staff. Without the presence of our United Methodist sponsored clinics in these areas, many people would go completely without modern healthcare. We run a small school in Camanchaj for pre-K K and first grade to help Mayan children prepare to succeed in Guatemalan government schools. Many of these kids speak only one of the 22 Mayan dialects still used in Guatemala today. The school provides them with 65% of their daily caloric needs, medical and dental services as well as an education that includes nutrition, dental hygiene, and traditional subjects including the Spanish they need. In addition, we host around 30 short term mission teams a year who serve in the areas of medicine, surgery, dental, optical, and construction. We are a UMC advance project and truthfully our organization is seeking funding and support for our on-going operations as well as for a major building project to expand our primary clinic facility in Camanchaj, in the central highlands of Guatemala. We will build a new two story clinic building and convert the current clinic into a Regional Surgery Center. The primary roles that Jan, John Edmund and I perform are to provide administrative support in a wide variety of tasks. Specific tasks at this time for Jan include banking and accounting work, handling donations of all sorts including supplies and pharmaceuticals, and helping to design better processes and procedures for our short term mission teams. John Edmund has recently started to provide a great deal of computer services support to the staff including designing and implementing a way to easily access a particularly difficult printer. My tasks include designing and building a computerized pharmacy inventory control system, being one of two primary drivers for the volunteer staff and performing project management tasks for the clinic construction project.
Answering God’s call to serve in Guatemala has been and continues to be an incredible experience in so many ways.
In true David Letterman style, here’s my top 10 list of things that tell you God is always beside you as you become a UM volunteer in mission in Guatemala.
1. Getting up the courage to tell your wife that you believe you are being called as a family to Guatemala while leaving behind the best job and salary you ever had to become a volunteer in mission, and then finding out that she will actually consider going.
2. Setting a deadline for booking airline tickets 3 weeks ahead of your flight, picking an airline, finding out on the day of the deadline they don’t transport pets, giving up in despair after hours of frustration, getting a message from another airline about frequent flyer miles at 9:30 pm, finding out that you’re only a few thousand miles short of getting free tickets, finding out that there are actually 3 award seats available; paying less than $200 so you can use miles for all 3 tickets, finishing the booking process with less than an hour to go before your deadline.
3. Finding out that your church, family, friends, and relatives will actually donate their time, resources, and money to help you answer God’s call, we are about two thirds of the way to our 2015 fundraising goal
4. Thinking you have your house in Rochester rented, finding out less than four weeks before you leave that the deal won’t happen, that same week, having a family from your church who is in need of good housing call a pastor who knows about the rental opportunity, finding out that this family has been mentoring your son while volunteering next to him at church, being able to meet their needs while providing us with storage space, having that family help you pack, then having them offer to let you stay in your own basement during your visits to Rochester
5. Taking your cat to the airport, having an airline gate agent spend 5 minutes looking grumpily at his computer screen, getting nervous and irritated about him taking so long, having him ask you if you would like to exchange your 3 leg, 45 minute between flights in Chicago and Miami schedule for a direct flight to miami with a 3.5 hour layover so you can relax a little and get something to eat while you’re there
6. Staying in Guatemala for an extra week in October 2014 to find housing, finding a place and saying that you’d like to rent it starting in February, contacting the land lord in January only to find his current renters have decided to stay until may or june, frantically contacting everyone you know in Guatemala that has real estate connections, having the same Guatemalan realtor tell you 3 or 4 times in the next two weeks that they think they have a place only to remind them that you have a cat and then be told that each rental won’t take a cat, having the same realtor call you 8 days before you leave and tell you they found something that does take a cat, booking it, having second thoughts on the day you arrive when you walk down the dark alley that leads to the apartment, opening the iron gate to discover a sanctuary that you almost immediately recognize as home
7. Installing a water filter in a remote location in the central highlands of Guatemala and while you are watching another team member do some of the work, having a 4 year old Mayan boy come up and hold your hand for several minutes, causing you to realize that you are just where God wanted you at that moment
8. Fitting eyeglasses on a withdrawn, shy and quiet 4 or 5 year old Guatemalan girl with very bad eyes, finding out in the following weeks that she has blossomed into an outgoing normal enthusiastic 5 year old because she can now see
9. Spending more time every day with your family without driving each other crazy, working side by side with your wife and son in Guatemala, teaching your son some of the things you would want him to know about faith, about life and about working in a professional team environment, having your executive director support you in this process even when things don’t go as well as you’d like
10. Recognizing that not only are we in mission as this church representatives to the underserved Mayan people in Guatemala but that when talking to you about what we do, we are in mission to this church as well.
I want to stress that we believe each and every person is called by the God who created us and walks with us every step of our lives. We fully understand that not everyone is called to Guatemala , but there is plenty of God’s work to be done here in Rochester and everywhere else in the world. The experiences listed above have reinforced our belief that God is with us each step of every day, with us in all things big and small. If you trust in God and answer God’s call, God can do amazing things in and with your life that you wouldn’t have believed were possible. Thank you for the opportunity to tell you some of the many ways that God has worked in our lives over the past few months.