Thursday, 21 May 2009
It is amazing how a single event can change your life. In February my daughter Emma and I accompanied dear friends on what would become one of the most life changing experiences. Our friends, Marcia and Tony Banks, had been visiting Guatemala for several years as part of Rotary International. They passionately shared with me a vision they had for our church to somehow get involved and perhaps send parishioners to this part of the world. Oddly enough, I had been sharing with friends at church my vision for missions for our youth. It was obvious that God was at work, so I decided to look into the possibility of such a venture.
The first hurdle was to convince myself that I was up to the task of leading such a mission, since the only true experience I ever had was more than 20 years ago when I went to Eastern Europe as part of a worship team. Knowing deep in my heart that God was calling me to the task, I accepted. After a great deal of prayer, research, discussion and more encouragement from Marcia, Tony and others from St. John’s, I approached our amazing priest, Fr. Scot Wright, with the notion, and he excitedly agreed it was a great idea. And so our journey began.
After inviting our wonderful youth director, Kelly Chapman-Pontiff, to join the mission, we advertised the trip to our parish. People stepped forward in interest and committed themselves to the mission. Now I had no way to turn back from God’s call. At the urging of the Banks, I made plans to visit Guatemala in advance of the June mission trip. And I brought my then 11 year-old daughter at the invitation of the Banks. I wasn’t totally sold on having her come due mainly to her age, but again I felt this was beyond my
My intention for the trip was to get things set-up and organized for the June mission. I had it in mind that I would sit down and discuss with the various host missionaries what it was my team members would be doing on a day to day basis, building a schedule I could take back to the team. A nice, tidy business trip, if you will. This never really happened. Instead we were thrust right into ministry. (In hindsight it is easy to see that was God’s intention.) First stop: the Hermano Pedro orphanage in Antigua.
Our host missionary, Dick Rutgers, led us on a tour of the facility, then showed us the children. He was so wonderful with us, taking the time to brief us on the history of each child, encouraging us to hold them, play with them or as Dick says, “love on ‘em”. Watching Dick with “his kids” gave us enough confidence to dig in. I’m sure it helped both Emma and I that I have a 17 year-old daughter with spastic-quadriplegia cerebral palsy. Still, these children were severely affected much more so than Dorothie and I wasn’t sure how Emma would react. Here the children spend 3/4 of their days in their cribs. The other 1/4 is spent in wheelchairs, most of the time placed right next to their cribs. Sometimes, if the weather allows, the children are wheeled outside. At first they appear unresponsive. However, when given attention and love they immediately respond with smiles that would melt the hardest of hearts.
God has an amazing way of revealing Himself to us when we follow His lead. I’m sure there were people
who thought I was crazy to bring my 11 year-old daughter to such a remote country. However, watching how well she adjusted to a new environment was more than worth it. God worked through her in so many ways, using the amazing talents with which He has blessed her, and letting Jesus shine through her. Unfazed, Emma naturally held children whose bodies were oddly twisted and contorted from their afflictions, kissing them on the head, whispering sweet blessings in their ears, hugging them closely so they would know how much they were dearly loved. She played with other children, laughing and reveling in the moment as if time stood still and this was the only thing that was important or mattered, much like I’ve imagined Jesus in his ministry. She taught me what it means to minister without reservation or fear, the memory forever etched on my heart.
Her actions gave a whole new meaning to Jesus’ words, “let the little children come to me, do not hinder them.” When I stepped out of the way, putting aside my guard and worries, Emma ministered in a way I never would have been able to at her age. The tears that flowed in the evenings when we were in the privacy of our hotel room showed me just how deeply she had been effected by her experiences. She knew that she was where God wanted her to be, and felt His presence with each child. Her heart broke for each one of them and she wanted to use every moment with them to simply shower the love of Christ on them. She literally couldn’t wait to go back to the orphanage, and struggled with the last day, unsure if she would see her new friends again. Needless to say, she will return with us in June, and is so excited knowing she will, God willing, see her friends again and “love on ‘em”.
I knew that lives would be changed on this trip, I just didn’t realize that mine would be included in such a profound way. This was exactly what happened during my trip to Eastern Europe 24 years ago, only this time it was my daughter God used to make the biggest impact.
Cathy Christensen, Team Co-Leader