Today was Friday, our last day of work. You would think that we would all be happy that our work here is done. But it was actually really sad because the jobs we did and the people we worked with were very enjoyable. Today I was working at the church, digging a trench six inches deep for plumbing. After breaking up rocks, I was in charge of using the glue to attach the pipes together. We finally packed all the dirt back into the trench. It feels good to see all the things we have accomplished this week and how many people we have helped.
Today was also the last day of VBS. We had around 100 kids, which is crazy compared to the three we had on Monday. Talking to the kids was very stressful because they talk very fast and use words that I haven’t heard, being in Spanish 2. However, seeing the faces of the kids as we left was really upsetting. As they hugged and kissed us goodbye, it was cool to see how strong of relationships we built with these kids in just five days. We got cakes and piatas for the kids today, and as soon as the candy started to fall, it was like a war zone. All the kids and their mothers were reaching for the ground, grabbing as much as possible. There are many cultural differences with the kids here. Instead of asking you to do something for them, they use commands to tell us to do it.
This has been such a good week here and we have all come together and worked very hard to make such a difference in people’s lives. I am glad to have had the chance to come on this trip even though I am the youngest one here. I have learned so much through the leaders, the workers, and other students. I will miss this week, but I can’t wait to get home and brush my teeth with sink water and have a warm shower.
As strange as is may seem to begin a blog with the end of the story, I have to do so. Tomorrow we go to the beach, and the day after we return to Herndon, Virginia. And as I began my work day today at the church, I asked myself: “How am I different?” Certainly, I feel closer to God here. I read the Bible more often. I have seen people worship with enthusiasm; the worship service we went to on Tuesday night was so filled with excitement and joy that if it happened back at our church I would think I was dreaming. But how was I different? When I returned home, what about me would be altered?
And then one of the other students walked past. She said hello. And as I replied, I realized with shock that my view of her had changed–not just her, but everyone here. These people are my family now. I have older sisters and older brothers and father figures, mother figures, friendly uncles, thoughtful aunts and even the people who I haven’t interacted with much at all are like distant cousins. Before I left, I thought of these people as friends who share a common interest. Some I didn’t even know at all. But a common faith has, in this week we’ve spent working and learning and stumbling together, become kinship. That changes a person.
Day to day we have learned about faith. To be honest, before I came here I was in a spiritual low in my life–we all have them, despite our belief a while earlier that we could never fall out with God. A year or so ago, God was the first thing on my mind when I awoke and the last at night. I wanted to preach, to share, to write all about God and what he means to me. Then that changed. I lost sight of Jesus, and until recently my thoughts have been on math problems. Video games. Writing stories of conflict and adventure, not the wonderful adventure of faith.
The people who live here are all about their faith. They take every opportunity to remind us that they have the joy of living a life with Christ. They don’t do it arrogantly, pridefully, or look down their noses at us as though they know how shallow my faith is compared to theirs. All the same, it’s like a splash of ice cold water in the face. God is using them to snap His fingers in front of me, get me to pay attention. “Wake up,” He says. “You’re wandering through the woods without a guide. It’s time for you to realize that you’re walking in circles.”
Tuesday evening was the worship service. My two years of Spanish lessons are not very helpful when it comes to interpreting shout after shout of praise to the Lord… but I didn’t need them to understand the faith of the speaker, Pastor Victor. When he was speaking, he wasn’t speaking to us, he was speaking to The Lord. He was shouting, crying out to the heavens with a voice that was terrifyingly close being painfully loud. And afterward he smiled, and we knew that he does this all the time; every day, he is so grateful to the Lord that he doesn’t make any compromises, but goes all out in his faith.
The paradox of faith: Those who have little to be grateful for are often the most grateful of all. I’ve heard it said in different ways, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen and heard it to be true
On Tuesday we painted a house, finished a wheelbarrow ramp, and continued working on a sidewalk for the church. We spent time with children who are friendly and seem to understand us far better than we understand them. On Wednesday we explored a city of people, a city of men and women who are friendly and don’t care that we (most of us) can’t speak Spanish any better than an infant. A man held out a cup for me, asking for money. I told him I had none. Instead of merely turning away to ask someone else, first he smiled, called me friend, and clapped me on the shoulder. In the same position, I would not have done that. I could not have done that.
A beggar is better at being kind than I am. Again, one of those things where the impact doesn’t really hit you until you have it happen in front of you.
I could go on and on and on about the things I have come to realize. I’ve realized that these people are following a light that I can’t see. Back home I sometime find it difficult to tell the difference between a Christian and non-Christian unless I ask–and that’s sometimes considered to be almost an insult, this personal question of: “what is your faith”? It’s a question we avoid back home. Here it is a loud, bold statement: “We are the servants of God!” Or, in Spanish, “Jesuchristo es el seor!”
With any luck, once we get back, we can use what we’ve learned to bolster others and maybe even show those without faith what a miracle our Christ is. Even if we don’t manage to change the world, it will be worth it, because in five days of work we have painted a house, built a sidewalk, built stairs, built wheelchair ramps, constructed a water pipe, and spent our afternoons with those younger than we are. For all the work done at our church, a lot of the credit has to go to Antonio. He was the professional, the one who knows how everything is done (and sometimes does everything while we sit back and watch with open mouths) and… for some apparent reason believes that we all speak fluent Spanish, and sometimes just need a little prodding.
All of the credit has to go to God. I’m sure Antonio would be happy to give his up.
We heard last night that in one day, over one thousand people read our blog. Some of what we’re doing must be appealing to others. For those of you who read what we say, thank you. For those of you who read what we say… and then tell about it to others, all I can say is God bless you!
As it turns out, our trip doesn’t end on Sunday–excuse me, Monday morning just after midnight when our plane touches down at Dulles Airport. It’s just begun. Let’s see how far we can get with a faith in the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, the God of All who saved us through the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus. We’ve seen how far we’ve gotten alone.