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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

Fifteen years ago today, I became a missionary.

On October 1st, 2002, we boarded a plane from New Orleans to Guatemala, starting a journey that would change our lives forever.

I was 20 years old, married for three years, had two daughters, and didn't speak much Spanish.

The plan was to serve for three months with some missionaries we knew. For several years, we had been going on mission trips to Central America, working with a ministry out of New Orleans called Cheer Up Missions. We had been to Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador, and now Guatemala awaited us.

Before my first trip to Honduras in 1999, I had never been to a "3rd" world country. After helping to load containers of humanitarian aid and wheelchairs for people affected by Hurricane Mitch, I decided it was time for me to go on a mission trip. While sitting on the plane, the team leader told me that since I didn't speak Spanish and wasn't part of the Gospel Clown shows they would be doing, I would be Santa Clause. At 120 pounds, I was a little light. Still, with the help of a few pillows the next day, I was ready to climb onto a 20ft float, drive across town in 100-degree heat while waving and saying "Feliz Navidad," and present gifts to hundreds of children who had lost their homes and were living in shelters.

I remember clearly when one of the kids came on stage to get a gift, tugged my beard half off, and promptly yelled that Santa was a Gringo. Another kid wanted to sit on my lap and proceeded to pee. Still, seeing the smiles and joy in the children's eyes, children who had lost everything and were so grateful to receive a Christmas present, profoundly impacted me.

For some reason, I kept making trips.

It was in late 2001 after I found out I was losing my job due to fallout from 9/11 and was visiting with my in-laws in New Orleans for Thanksgiving, that we were invited to go serve in Guatemala. We were sitting around the table after the meal, and some missionaries were sharing about the work they were doing and how they needed help. For some reason, I told them that I had been pink-slipped and was trying to figure out what to do when they said, "Why don't you come down to Guatemala?" I don't know what came over me, but for some reason I said yes. We had done week long mission trips, so why not three months.

Looking back, I can only say that the Holy Spirit influenced me. I didn't even ask my wife or consider the fact that we would have a baby who was only a few months old. If I had been older and wiser, I probably wouldn't have "known better," but at that moment, I said yes.

The following 10 months were full of challenges, relocating back to New Orleans, getting temporary work, the birth of our second child, dealing with her health complications in the first few months of her life, and finally just going ahead and buying the tickets, regardless of how ready we felt.

The day of the flight came, and 10 minutes before getting in the car to head to the airport, I got a call from my grandmother. We were staying with my in-laws, and I will never know where she got the number from. She had never called me in my life! I would call her on her birthday and Christmas, but that was it.

She was not a believer; in fact, she is still an atheist. So when she asked me what we were up to, and I responded that we were heading to the airport to do mission work in Guatemala, her reaction was less than enthusiastic. She promptly offered me a house to stay in for free, assistance with college, and anything else I might need if only I would not go to Guatemala.

It was a tempting offer. I remember telling her thank you and that I would call her in three months when I was done being a missionary. Needless to say, that call never happened.

We arrived in Guatemala late at night after almost missing the connecting flight in El Salvador.

The missionaries who had invited us were there to pick us up. As we drove through the traffic and chaos of Guatemala City, I never could have imagined that this was where I would dedicate my life to serving the orphaned and fatherless.

Traffic, pollution, cement walls, barbed wires, and poverty everywhere didn't really appeal to me. Still, I knew that God had brought me here, and I would give it my best shot.

As the days flew by, I gradually started to see the people as people. As I talked to them and heard their stories, I saw lives needing comfort and hope, which are only found in the Gospel. Slowly but surely, a change began to come over me. It wasn't based on passion, love, or "a call" to service; it was grounded in a conviction that Christ had already called me, along with every other Christian, to a life of service to those in need, that the heart that He had for the orphaned, downtrodden and vulnerable was filled with love and compassion. There was work for me here if I would just say "Yes."

A key moment for us was when I realized that our return flight was coming up and the airline wouldn't let us change the date without a big fee. I remember praying and telling God that if he could do a miracle and help us change the date on the tickets for free, I would take it as confirmation that he wanted us to stay.

I went to the airport and was promptly told that they could do nothing for me. However, the missionary accompanying me suggested we head to the airline's main office to talk to a manager. Upon getting there, I explained that my wife and I had come here to volunteer for a few months. Still, upon seeing a need that was so great, we committed to serving long-term and wanted to postpone our return flights. The manager asked me for my tickets, checked something on the computer, and told me that I could pick any date I wanted. She would be happy to change our tickets at no cost in appreciation for the work we would be doing.

I remember walking out of there with a sense of confidence that I had felt only a few times in my life. Even though we had no support, I didn't speak the language and didn't know exactly where or how we would serve; we had said yes to God.

Honestly, I didn't have a precise moment when I felt "the call." I had simply accepted The Call that is given to all followers of Christ when Jesus himself said in Matthew 28:19 to go and make disciples of all nations. This call was reinforced by His words in John 14:15 that if I love Him, I will keep His commandments. James clarified this further when he told us that caring for the orphaned is on par with pursuing a life free from sin.

I concluded that being a missionary isn't a call; it's an answer.

We struggled to figure out where we fit in in the first few years. The missionaries who had invited us down ended up leaving after a few months. I knew that I wanted to have an impact in serving vulnerable children, but I didn't know how to go about it. What started as birthday parties at Chuckee Cheese for kids from orphanages, trying to bring them happiness, led to us serving one group of 12 girls at a small orphanage run by a single mom with a disabled son.

I worked hard at getting other missionaries involved, but I finally accepted that God had called me, and I had said yes. Therefore, it was my job to serve them regardless of whether or not anyone else did, and so we did, walking alongside them all these years.

It has been quite a journey! I remember when I started out serving orphans, it wasn't that I didn't know anything about serving them, but it was that so much of what I knew was wrong. My assumption was that simply throwing time, money, and good intentions at the problems these kids were facing was enough. Thankfully, God saw our hearts and honored our efforts. We made mistakes, but we learned from them and tried to be intentional about finding the best ways to serve those God had brought us to. As a result, our ministries have continued to grow.

Looking at where we are now, running a community center in the slums of the city that serves over 125 children and their families, a daycare for the profoundly disabled, vocational training programs that serve orphans, the many children that we have discipled and the many ministries we have assisted over the years. I find myself looking back at how we got here, and I'm reminded that it came down to one key thing, we had to say yes, not to a call, but to The Call.

We did by the grace of God, and I am amazed at all that has been accomplished by God, for God, through God, and for His Kingdom.

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