April 2016 was a whirlwind: end of senior year, I turned 18, and I was being tested in my faith like I’d never been before. I needed God and to just be reassured in my purpose, as well as my confidence in myself. Next thing I know, someone posted on Facebook (I later knew that someone to be the wonderful Emmie Weddell) about an exciting new opportunity for incoming Baylor freshmen: a missions line camp to Guatemala. I instantly knew that I had to take part in this- God laid on my heart this intense desire to go. And so I did.
Little did I know that going on this wonderful trip with wonderful people in a wonderful city would be so completely life-changing. Getting to walk around the beautiful culture and atmosphere of Antigua was incredibly eye-opening and breathtaking- and that wasn’t even the best part of the trip.
Sure, going to the market and bargaining, attempting to use my three years of Spanish, zip-lining, and going in the mountains was fun…
…but nothing compared to being around the infectious smiles of children at Colonia Infantil.
Some background for ya: Colonia Infantil is not an orphanage. Rather, it is a malnutrition center that takes in kids for certain amounts of time to help nurse them back into healthy, growing children. Most of the kids there are dropped off by parents who desperately want to be able to take care of them, yet are struggling in some shape or form and just need some help. So that’s what I got to experience- I got to see the miracles that God pulls off in this center.
Imagine your most basic interpretation of what being malnourished looks like. Most would picture someone fragile, small, skinny, etc. After seeing before pictures of some of the kids, these were mere surface descriptions. Being able to hold and hug these warm, chubby, happy kids made grasping the concept of their prior malnourishment impossible, at least for me. These transformations were undoubtedly works of God’s love.
This was the life-changing part. This was the thing that stays in my mind with each passing day. I could feel God’s presence more easily than I had ever before- he was in each of the little kids’ giggles, the nannies’ warm embraces- he was everywhere. Getting to work and play with these bright, shining faces is something I’ll never forget: especially this one little girl, Nataly.
When Nataly first came to the center, she defied our basic interpretation. Instead, her skin had what, at first glance, looked like burns. She was so depleted of nutrients that her skin just looked tarnished. I was completely taken aback when I saw the photo of her from those first days. In the pictures above, you can see how happy and healthy she now looks. In fact, when our team was at the center, she had just gotten moved up to the “Bunnies” room, meaning her health was improving and she could handle being with kids closer to her age. Unfortunately, she still didn’t know how to crawl or walk around, so she would sit and play with whatever was nearest to her while the other kids were active. This often meant that she was playing by herself, so I decided to go be with her. And I am so glad that I did. Who knew that peek-a-boo was such an internationally fascinating game for toddlers? Getting to play and spend time with this sweet girl made the trip so memorable, yet burdening.
The kids at this center don’t have their parents there every day to physically hold them. The younger ones don’t get to be taught how to say “mama” by their mom. This was such an eye-opening experience for me. This made all of my problems and issues seem so insignificant- I am able to wake up every day fully knowing I am loved and cared for. Sure, this was a mission trip to go and try to serve the people of Guatemala as best we could, but I am positive I walked away more impacted by them than they by me.
Nataly won’t remember playing peek-a-boo with me, but she’ll remember being at this center and given a second chance. She’ll remember the care she received not from me, but from the nannies who are there every day, selflessly giving their time to make the best of hers. I’ll remember her, though- my memory of her pushes me to be better.
I took away many things from serving in Guatemala: I realized how absolutely incredible my university is, I became more comfortable being vulnerable, I created new relationships, and so, so much more. However, nothing compared to God reminding me of how important it is to love and serve for him.
God used this trip as a wake up call for me. He laid a burden on my heart about what’s been going on- our world is hurting and hungry for love. We live in a culture where the most recent crime yields a hashtag for prayer without intention to do something. Yes, lifting up the hurt in prayer is a good start, but you can’t have full prayers, empty actions, and expect God to do all of the work. It’s on us to do what we’re called to do, and we are called to love.
My experience in Guatemala was just a small glimpse at how love can drastically change an outcome. The kids were taken to this center not out of them being unwanted, but out of their parents’ love. The kids don’t get better by chance, they are healthy now because of the nannies’ love. That center didn’t happen to start taking kids in, it happened because of God’s immeasurable love for all of his children. He doesn’t just love me, or you, or America, no- he loves all of his creations, in all of the corners of the world. He loves everywhere.
And so should we. We are ambassadors of God’s goodness, and because of that, we are called to reach out to love and take action. Love is a verb, after all, so let’s get up, fill our actions as much as our prayers, go out and love this world that needs it.
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” ~Ephesians 3:17-19~