This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to go with a group of 10 amazing people to the country of Guatemala. We went with a program called Medical Evangelism Training, or MET. The program was through Health Talents International, which is a non profit organization based out of Alabama. Health Talents has several clinics set up in the country of Guatemala, and has a full time doctor, Sergio Castillo, on staff. HTI also sends short-term surgery missionary teams to these clinics for different areas such as optometry and OB/GYN annually, or semi annually as the schedule allows. The program that I went with, MET, is a program that is mainly geared toward pre-medical students. It is set up to show different aspects of the mission field and give you hands on experience in how that relates to the medical field. Its goal is to give a realistic look at the experiences of medical missionaries. HTI has several clinics that it supports throughout Guatemala. They have established rapport for Christian health care all throughout the country, and they are welcomed by most of the people there. Through the work that they have already done, they have gained the respect of the villages that they are working in, and they are hoping to expand into more villages, as they are able to. It was definitely a unique opportunity to be a part of an organization that was so well established among the people.
When we arrived to Guatemala after the two days of training, the team was divided up and everyone lived with a different Guatemalan family. This provided innumerable advantages that I have seen (mostly in retrospect, however). Most of the families (including the one that I lived with) did not speak any English, and most of us didn't speak Spanish, or didn't speak it well. The language barrier would very quickly come to be one of the most discussed topics. It really made us realize how much communication, or the lack thereof, is so vital to our existence not only as human beings, but even more importantly as Christians. Another thing that was gained by living alone with the family was we were able to experience things on our own. We had many shared experiences at clinic and at other times, but the time that we shared with our host families was an intimate time that was just ours. It forced us to break out of our cultural egotism and try new things. We were definitely in the minority once we entered that house and we suddenly realized what that felt like. Being in the house with only your host family could be a very scary thing, especially if you got sick and had to stay there while the group went out to clinics (which seemed to happen to me quite a bit). It was a hard thing to be lying in bed running fever, and not be able to communicate with the other people in the house who may or may not understand why the strange American won't get out of bed.
Going into the situation we were not informed of what all we would be doing. On one hand this was due to the fact that their culture is so different than ours is. We were there to help the clinics get done whatever they needed us for at that time and there was no telling what that might be a couple months, even one month in advance. On another hand they did not want to try and "prepare" us so much that we were not able to experience things for ourselves.
While we were there we learned most things through experience. We learned about the cultural "faux pas" by doing them. We learned about the food by tasting it. We learned about the religion by fellowshipping with the churches there. We learned about their poverty in the fincas (villages where the plantation workers live) by visiting them. We learned about the lack of nutrition by witnessing it in the health of the people. We leaned how hard the work ethic is by seeing so many men with hernias. We saw how important family was and how inadequate prenatal care was by seeing all the prolapsed uteruses. We learned by seeing things. We tried to understand why a woman feels the need to have 7 to 10 children. To us these things that we hear about now are more than just statistics. I now see people when I hear facts about Guatemala.
While we were there we worked in the clinics a lot. We were able to talk to the people that came into the clinic and really see hands- on what they were there for. We got to look into the faces of so many people in pain, that thought that we were the miracle workers that could heal all their hurts. I think that God taught me a lot about the commonalties in people while I was in Guatemala. There was one day that a lady came into the clinic and she was in so much pain. I think that she was in a lot of physical pain, but even more than that, she was hurting because she just didn't know what was wrong with her. She had been to many doctors and one she said even took an ultrasound and gave her some medicine, but no one was really listening to her, she felt like. He didn't tell her what was wrong, or even discuss the ultrasound with her at all. She said that she felt like they were all just taking her money, but no one was really trying to help. She said that she was starting to lose faith in doctors and as a result, she was starting to lose faith in God as well. She had traveled four hours by car to come to the clinic where we were. She said that she was so happy because she felt like we were really there to help her, but most of all because we were there in the name of the Lord. It made me realize that there are people that feel this same way even in our society, where we have some of the best health care in the entire world. There are still people out there that are hurting and the main reason that they are hurting is not just because of their physical pain, but it's because that they don't think that anyone is really listening to them. This showed me that there are basic needs that cross boundaries of culture, such as the need to be loved and the need for attention. If you fulfill these needs for people you can open a door for Christ. This is exactly what Jesus did. He went to those who were hurting, those in pain, and he helped them in any way that he could.
On the days that we did not go to clinic we did many other things. A couple of days we went into a very, very rural Quiche village and worshiped with the people there. After church we went outside and we played games with the children that were there (and those that quickly found themselves there). We learned to count to five in Quiche and we taught them to count to five in English. I realized that day that as funny as Quiche sounds to me, English must be just as funny to them. They are sounds that they are not used to hearing, and it is strange to them. Other days we would meet at the church and we would have classes. The classes were taught from many different perspectives. There were three days when the Lunas, a missionary couple that works in Guatemala, came and talked to us about the history of religion in Guatemala. Mr. Luna also talked about some general missionary principles. Other days we did some team building activities and tried to make applications to our team and to our life in general.
We somewhat knew what we were going into, but on so many other levels we really had no idea. We were going into a culture that was not our own, a language that was not our own, an income level that was not our own, and a set of backgrounds that were not our own. We would learn, however, that these seemingly gigantic hurdles would be what made us grow immensely and love beyond our expectations, the people that we were living with and living among. We were able to learn about the mission field at the same time we were on it. It was like learning about Michelangelo's techniques while staring up at the Sistine Chapel. It doesn't get more real than this. All the sugar coating was taken off and we talked about culture shock while we were experiencing it. There is no better teacher than experience, and I think that that must have been why I learned so much.
But even as I tell you all these things there are a thousand more things that I can't talk about- not because it's too emotional, but because they're just really aren't words. There aren't words to describe the feeling when you are able to share a smile with a child that has no idea what you are saying. There are not words to describe to you what it feels like to live with a family that you do not even know and have them invite you to their daughter's wedding. There are not words to describe to you the little idiosyncrasies of the family that you live with, and then the feeling that you get when you realize that this crazy scene that is happening at the dinner table is just like something that might happen at your dinner table. And there are no words to describe the realization that as much as you want to, and as much as these people believe that you can, you really can't heal everyone or even begin to help some. The medical avenue is one of the largest doors for evangelism. When people are in pain they are willing to listen to you. When people need your help they trust you. Many of these people have not lost hope in the medical system and they have respect for doctors and what the doctors tell them. They are receiving the help that they need, but not just the medical attention. They are receiving the love and the compassion that is so often overlooked. They are reviving a message that will last them beyond this life's hurt and this life' s pain. They are receiving an eternal hope that is better than any medicine anyone could ever give them.