I Gave Them Light, They Gave Me Hope

We were traveling down a dusty dirt road, packed like sardines in a rickety van. We bounced up and down as I peered out the window. The mountainscapes around us were breathtaking. It was one of the moments, once again, in my life where I contemplated how I got here. I was in the middle of Guatemala traveling to a remote village with a group of people I had just met a week earlier.  In the weeks preceding this trip I had allowed myself to feel a bit down and I was nervous about going. I had tried not to think about the trip and was anxious to spend a week with strangers I didn’t know and leave my family for week.

My good friend, Lindsey, had invited me to come along on a humanitarian trip as a Spanish interpreter. I, having an insatiable love of travel and humanitarian work,  immediately agreed and a few weeks later was pulling up to this small school far away from home. This particular group was made up of High Schoolers and some parent chaperones. The High Schoolers had all prepared classes to teach at the local elementary schools.

There was a certain excitement in the air that particular morning. I am not sure if it was the chatter or the picturesque landscapes or that we were finally well rested from our journey and the first few days of adjusting.  After an hour or so, the vans stopped and we all piled out like clowns at a circus. We gathered our teaching supplies and entered the small school. All the children greeted us. They were wearing their school uniforms which consisted of plaid skirts and colorful indigenous blouses that were hand woven and stitched by their mothers.

Seeing Their First Jump Rope

The head of the school stood to speak. Although soft spoken he immediately drew the attention of all the students who scurried to get in perfectly formed lines according to which class they belonged and looked at him with absolute attention. He welcomed our team and then divided us into 3 separate groups. I interpreted the class for 10 year old girls on puberty with the permission of their parents and teachers. The girls all sat perfectly still and didn’t say a word. They were wide eyed as we explained to them about the female body. At the end of the class we distributed kits in pretty handmade bags. Finally the smiles broke and they were visibly relieved to go to the next class. The students learned about making bracelets, geography, playing card games, healthy teeth care and finally we all met in the courtyard for some jump rope lessons.

The excitement and joy were tangible and the students squealed and laughed with delight as they attempted to jump and then ran back in line to try again. The volunteers happily took turns turning the rope or holding the hands of little ones as the rope went around and instructed them at just the right moment to “Jump!” “Now!”

The director called us all to meet again to conclude our time there. The children, out of breath, ran once again into formation of their straight lines. Our team then presented school supplies to the school that had been collected before our trip and then surprised the children by telling them we were leaving the jump ropes for them as well. Squeals of delight rang through the air as the children turned towards each other with delighted eyes and celebration.

The director then told all the children about the great sacrifice we had made to bring our own resources and come here from so far away to share with them. I was dumbfounded and humbled. My heart began to swell and I felt tears start to roll down my cheeks. I glanced at Lindsey and we shared a look of amazement and gratitude. Here was this director thanking US. We, who had SO much and were offering, what seemed to us, so little. My heart filled with an instant love for the people we had just met. They had taught me so much in that moment about true gratitude and kindness.

As we rode back to our lodgings that afternoon nobody noticed the rickety van or the bumpy road. Smiles were, however, abundant. Our vessels had unexpectedly been filled to overflowing. We had hoped to serve others and help them and had received so much in return.

Receiving Their First Light Bulb 

Another mission of this trip was to install solar panels into the homes of those with no electricity or those who could not afford to pay for it. It was a very small solar panel on which you could attach 2 light bulbs. It was simple but met the needs of those who were without.

I contemplated about the power going off at home and what a “great inconvenience” it was to me. I couldn’t finish cooking dinner or watch my favorite TV show or get on my computer. Here so many lived without power daily or could not afford the $30 a month to keep it on. When you make $5 a day it takes a huge chunk of the budget. It typically was dark by 6-7pm. The kids can’t be entertained by television before bedtime. They can’t do their homework. If a child wakes in the middle of the night screaming the mother has to stumble to find that child and care for them. A 2-3 hour power outage at home seemed so minor now.

The next day it was my turn to join the solar panel team as their interpreter. We had the basic location of a few people who might be in need. We squashed ourselves once again into a small tuk-tuk that the locals used as taxis. Half a bum in and half out I held on up the steep hill as we puttered like a rollercoaster inching its way up the first big hill. Finally, we arrived into town, paid our fare and started down a cobblestone street.

We walked on down this street asking along the way if anyone knew where so and so lived. Each person we met was friendly and kind and pointed down the street and simply said, “Keep going straight”. We finally arrived to the end of the road only to discover it was the same person they had installed a panel for 2 days earlier so we walked back along the cobblestone road and back into town. We asked around again for our next lead.

Next we walked up a road and after a while finally found the residence we were looking for. This home was a single mother with 2 children, a 4 year old and a 2 year old. Her husband had left her and she was presently living with her mother and grandmother and 12 other people in a home down the road. She had been renting her house out to the vendors at the market so they would not have to transport their goods each week to the market. She also raised some pigs on a hill behind her home for income.  Her grandfather had left this home to her but she had no light. The entire home was a cement room. There were 2 windows but nothing else. No separate kitchen, no bathroom, just a small 10X10 room at most. We installed one light bulb in the center of the room and another just outside the front door.

While we were there her sister brought us each a chocolate covered banana. It was a local favorite. Choconanos they called them and we gladly accepted them. The single mother was so gracious and thanked us profusely. She was so grateful to be able to move into her own home now.

We still had several solar panels but had run out of contacts and so we walked up and down the hills asking if anyone knew someone who needed a solar panel. It reminded me of my missionary days walking the streets and hoping to find someone in need and praying for guidance to be led to that person.

We were given the name of a mother of one of the cooks at the home where we were staying. After wandering lost through the streets and asking numerous people, we were led by one of the locals to a hidden narrow alley behind a hill of a small shop. Behind this hill there were a row of mud huts. As we walked by each one you could see into the homes where a bed, a small table, a stove and a few personal items existed.  That was the extent of their belongings. Several small children peered out the doors at us strangers and a few more followed us to the hut we were to visit. We walked by a small chicken coop where 3 new chicks peeped, past a turkey coop where the skinniest turkey I ever saw squawked at me. There was a trickle of water running down the hill.

As we carefully stepped over it a woman came out of the home. She greeted us with a big smile. Her gray hairs poked out of the purple scarf wrapped around her head. She wore an old sweater atop her embroidered shirt and a well worn apron over her skirt. We greeted her and confirmed we were at the right location. She invited us into her mud home. Just inside was a small room with a simple stool she had been sitting on just a few seconds earlier. It was surrounded with corn husks covering the dirt floor around it. In the corner was a tiny black stove where the food was cooked. Just behind that room was another room with a bed and a few other personal items. She told me she was feeling ill but she still had to husk all the corn.

She was making a type of tamales and would board a bus in the morning and ride for 2 hours to the coast to sell those tamales. It was the same bus she would ride 3 times a week to sell tamales to make enough money to barely survive. Her Sunday was a day of rest, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were spent all day making her tamales and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays spent traveling and selling those tamales. Although a 79 year old woman, she was still working from sunup to sundown each day just to survive.

I sat down and spoke with her while the team installed the solar panel and two light bulbs. She watched in awe as this gift was given to her. She spoke of how it was not easy to make her payments each month and when she missed paying a month she would have to pay double the next month. As we spoke her eyes filled with tears and she said, “I cannot afford to pay my bill and I cannot afford to pay you, but God will pay you. He will pay you for me.” She believed her faithfulness would be payment enough for the acts of kindness bestowed upon her.

As I listened to her I was once again humbled and pondered about this simplistic gift of a small solar panel and 2 dangling light bulbs. Perhaps those were not the greatest gifts we were giving. Perhaps the real gift we were there to pass along was the Light of Christ. That is our true luxury and wealth and unlike gifts or money, it multiplies as we give it away and spread it to the corners of the earth. Perhaps the people of Guatemala didn’t know how to thank us because they could not, in the moment, identify the spiritual light that had been given but they did feel it, that was for certain. I know because I felt of the light they gave to us in return.

Dieter Uchtdorf said, “He who humbly follows Jesus Christ will experience and share in His light. And that light will grow until it eventually dispels even the most profound darkness. God is no respecter of persons. His light is available to all—great or small, rich or poor, privileged or disadvantaged. This light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and… the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul.”

All the anxiety and nervousness I had felt about this trip were completely gone. I barely remembered any of those feelings for I too had been a recipient of this light. Having the opportunity to spread what little light I felt I had to give, helped me to feel immense joy and dispelled any clouds of darkness that had fallen over me. Even my husband commented when I arrived home that my eyes were sparkling and I was filled with joy. By spreading HIS light, it brightened mine.

This was the highlight of the trip for me. It brought me unspeakable joy to know that I was able to help spread the Light of Christ to others and fill my soul with it as well.  The people we served might forget the jump ropes, the games we played, the light bulbs, etc. but they won’t forget how they felt when we shared those moments together. I won’t forget the light the people of Guatemala shared with me. If we focus on spreading light to each other instead of wallowing in our own storms the earth can be a brighter place for us all to live.