The sun was fiercely burning, the so-called trail was wet and muddy from past weeks of non-stop heavy rain, and there was a horrible stench that filled the air which made the hike through the village more difficult to bear.
We finally came to the end of our hike, "This is it!" I heard one of my teammates exclaim. But no words came to me. I stared at the shack made of pieces of wood and tin, the inside was dark and smoky and the floor was made of uneven dirt.
We were to build twelve houses in one week, our team was made up of twelve people, which were divided into two groups of six. Two of us were "the rookies", as this was our first house building mission trip to Guatemala.
"Laura?" I quickly came back to reality as they called my name. "Put your stuff down, we're going to meet the family now." I let go of the ladder I was carrying, and happily took my heavy backpack off, which mostly contained toys for children we met during the day, then followed the rest of my team to where a small family was waiting with great anticipation in their eyes.
We were all introduced, and immediately a shy little girl caught my attention. She was wearing a traditional Guatemalan dress, called "corte", she was barefoot, and her hair was messy and dirty. However, her sincere smile made her the most beautiful child I had ever come across with.
The family had already designated an area for us to work on. After asking the lady of the house where she would like the door and two small windows, we went right to work.
I was painting when I heard a soft voice behind me, "Te puedo ayudar?" ("Can I help you?") I turned and saw the same tender smile that belonged to the little girl I had spotted earlier. I would initially have said not to worry about it, we could do all the work. But I remembered that on the previous night, during our meeting, the team leader had encouraged us to allow the people to help us if they volunteered, since that would help us make a stronger and faster connection with them.
So I smiled and handed her a paint brush. The more we painted, the more she opened up with me, and soon all the shyness had disappeared and she seemed to be telling me all about her life....a life which many would never desire.
I learned that she was eight years old, although she looked much younger.
She asked very naive questions such as: "What does pizza taste like?" or "What toys do you have?" and even "Is your house as big as mine?" with a lump in my throat, I tried to answer all her questions trying hard not to show how I was really feeling inside.
I asked her if she and her family went to church. "We used to," she replied "but it takes us two hours to get there by foot" Well, that's comprehensible, I thought, especially considering that the mom would have to carry a very young baby on her back. But she wasn't done explaining yet, "and the reason we stopped going is because there are bad men by the road that rob you and hurt you." She sounded so used to the idea of possibly getting robbed on your way to church. That made me appreciate the peaceful country roads, that we're blessed with back home.
I felt to tell her that a building is not necessary to talk to God, "He listens to you, anywhere you are, anytime of the day." Her face brightened as she heard the words.
As the hours ticked by, the house was slowly rising from the ground, I glanced over to where the family, along with relatives and neighbors, were watching with an expression of unbelief and joy.
I walked towards them, the little girl's mother immediately came up to me to offer some sort of crackers and drink, she had tears in her eyes as she spoke: " We have been sleeping on the ground, there was not enough room for all of us, now you give us this beautiful home.....I will never be able to repay you." She couldn't continue. I hugged her tight, but I could not speak. I am glad a more experienced team member was there who was able to explain to her that this gift was not from us, but that God loved her so much, that He had sent us to deliver it to her.
She then broke up in tears as she shared with us that she had prayed for over three years, that God would provide a shelter for her family, and that now she knew that in God's time, He makes our dreams come true.
As I heard her speak, my eyes turned to the small wooden building beside us. This was her dream? I thought astonished. And here I am, dreaming about non important luxuries, while people are dreaming and praying for a plain, two (tiny) room shack to shelter them from the rain!
That convinced me that without realizing I had been taking for granted what I have in life, and even what my heart desires. Sure, I say thank you a lot....but do I truly mean it?
Maybe we're all guilty of this at least to some extent.
When was the last time that we were thankful for having a roof over our heads? Clothes to wear? A job? A husband or dad who works hard to faithfully bring the needs to reality? Even our free time when we get to enjoy life's simple joys?
And most important, when was the last time that we thanked God for giving us a life that we most definitely don't deserve, but that many would greatly desire?
When we bow our heads before each meal, has it become only a habit and custom? Do we truly realize that in this moment there are people who have nothing to eat, yet they smile and give thanks, because they know that God will never let them down!
I have seen things in only 17 days while in Guatemala, that are hard to believe they're true. They have changed the way I look at life, and they have proved to me that life is meant to be lived for others. But you don't necessarily have to journey half way across the continent to realize this. That's why I am sharing this story with you, I have wasted many years being ungrateful and taking for granted the life that God has given me. But if you're reading this, I ask that you consider if maybe you have been doing the same, even in the slightest details, just remember, you are alive, you have been blessed, be happy, give thanks!
Beautiful Guatemala coming into view as we land....
Young girls, as seen below, are forced to help the family by making beautiful crafts and selling them on the street from sun up to sun down.
Taking selfies is pretty much the funnest thing ever for these kids! :)
On this one, we took a break from painting, and they thought it was so funny that my nose had paint on it....
They never get to see themselves, so they loooooove it when I take pictures of them, which is good because I loooooove taking pictures of them. :)
This little man told me that he wanted to be a photographer when he grows up, so I handed my camera to him and taught him a few things....he was so proud!
I can't even begin to express how precious they are!
One of the more "presentable" homes we encountered.....this one belonged to a young mother who had just given birth that same day!
One thing I noticed is how hard working these little guys are....not only do they volunteer to help, but they do it with such a happy attitude! And when they're all finished.....they ask for more work!
One night, after another long day of work at a village far away.....
Everyone was sound asleep, when suddenly a loud explosion is heard, as if a canon had been fired next door! I began to freak out when my roommate calls me to quickly go up to the terrace....."and bring your camera!" I grabbed it and ran up to where she was gazing far into the distance.....
Ends up, it wasn't World War III.....but one of the many volcanoes near by was erupting!!
I'm so glad it was that....it was an incredible sight.
The beautiful view from the terrace during the day.
Guatemala Part 2