On July 30, nine of us set out in an old church van for McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, en route to Guatemala City, Guatemala. There was an air of excitement, anticipation and probably some nerves, as you can imagine. I don’t think any of us were fully prepared for how we would see God do truly amazing things over the next eight days.
I’ve been on numerous short-term trips, multiple long-term ones and have lived overseas. These experiences have created in me a healthy (I hope) skepticism of the average short-term, here come the Americans to save the day, missions trip. Often times, the work done is ok, but probably would’ve been done better by locals. The impact is significant for the length of the stay but seems to wane with every passing day once the trip is over. The passion and fervor that God creates in the those that go fades along with the missionary mindset that accompanies it in these moments. How could we possibly do what we did there, here? I want to write this blog in light of our week serving with Champions in Action in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala because without pride or self-glory this week was just different.
50+ American Volunteers, 120 Guatemalan girls ranging from 12-16 years old, 22 Guatemalan mentors, 11 Guatemalan translators and 5 Champions in Action staff spent a week together filled with God and futbol. Each day was packed. I’m still ignorant to whether or not the staff intend for this, but everything seemed to be setup to break us and the girls down, so that the gospel would be all that was left to build us back up.
You see, many of our girls come from broken homes, they’ve taken on a mother role for their younger siblings because mom isn’t around, some receive, or have already succumb to pressure to use their bodies to bring an income for their families and there are too many stories of rape and abuse that have already taken place. Many have experienced the pain of losing loved ones; every 90 minutes someone is murdered in Guatemala. They face poverty, crime, corruption, and fear daily. So the chapel sessions each night brought forth strong emotions and the girls released the agony they have carried for so long. But, throughout the week, the walls came down, and we were able to see such joy and life from the girls. To this day I have not seen God minister in such a tremendously powerful way as he did this one evening. As many of the Guatemalan girls from our teams shared:
“As Isaac preached I found myself sorry for making God so little sometimes, for doubting his power, for daring to think I ever had anything to offer. I asked God to reveal himself in a way that we would never forget, to blow the minds of the hardened hearts, to show his power over the darkness; his power over the pain; his love for his children. God showed up. To explain it would be impossible. To describe it would require words that don’t exist, to make sense of it, foolishness in man’s eyes. What I can say is God gets what God wants. God is faithful to hear the prayers of his saints, God loves his children, and not just the fat, dumb, and happy ones we Americans tend to degrade into. No, he loves ALL his children. His church is everywhere, and when he looks at us, he doesn’t see Guatemalans, Americans, Europeans, etc.; he sees his children.” – Todd Davison, Redemption Team (read his blog here)
The mentors and volunteers coached their kids in both soccer and life, teaching them lessons on how to deal with issues back home all the while communicating the gospel with both word and deed. Memories were made as we trained, competed in soccer games, shared meals and worshipped together. There was dancing, mud fights and endless cheering. By week’s end, we watched with joy as lifelong bonds formed and walls came down. The greatest thing is that the transformation doesn’t end here. This is just week one of a year-long mentorship program. When everyone goes home, mentors stay busy meeting with their kids each week. They hold practices to continuing working on soccer skills, lead devotions and continue to invest in the lives of the youth. The mentors check in with the kids at school and at home, staying on top of issues the kids face and how they are dealing with the challenges. Every other week, Champions in Action host a league where the teams are ableto show off their soccer skills and have even more time with their mentors.
As I reflect on what God did in Guatemala, the countless lives given to Him, the 50+ baptisms, the pain that was taken away, the beautiful Gospel that was preached, and the trust that this was but step one for these young girls, I am only left with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving that we were able to be part of it all and that we are able to continue to be a part of God’s work there and here in our own town, Flagstaff.
“I see my girls faces every single day, I miss them and I wonder about them. I worry for them, and then I pray. God has comforted me in that He will watch over them when I wish I could, and I am sure that He’ll do a much better job than I. Somehow, I know that these girls returned to the same dire situations but not as the same people they were before. I believe they will be the catalysts, the ones who break cycles, those whom God uses to redeem broken things. I came back to my apartment and my job in the states and to my family who was worried sick about me, and I felt horribly privileged and ashamed of all i’d taken for granted before. I am still struggling to feel comfortable here, to adjust to living this life again, but I am aware of this: I did not come home the same person either, and I feel that I too can become a catalyst and one whom God can use.” – JD Mercado, Redemption Team (read his blog here)
Many of you know already, but we have been trying to do a similar thing, combine futbol and God in reaching out and caring for the Peak School, a small charter school here in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Flagstaff. Last year we started a 9-13 year old after-school soccer program. The kids that play are amazing and although they don’t come from Zone 11 of Guatemala City they experience their own challenges and hardships. We believe the church has been called by God to care for our city and it’s inhabitants and this is one avenue for us to do that. It is a tangible way for our overseas work to translate back home and vice-versa. It is an opportunity for us all to be missionaries right here. Want to help out, let us know! Don’t know anything about soccer? No problem, the same went for over half our team that came to Guatemala. There are many ways to serve. Join us. Oh and start saving now, we’re going back to Guatemala next summer and we’d love to have you with us! – Vince Garvey, Senior Pastor
If you missed it on Sunday–Watch the video here !
Photos By: Kellan Rothfus