Sometimes being a missionary in Guatemala is about a nut and a bolt.
Yes, you read that right, not the nuts and bolts, just a nut and a bolt. Having spent almost 15 years in Guatemala, I’ve learned a few things, like how to get things done, where to find things and who does a good job.
Developing countries are different in the sense that reliable help is often hard to find and once you find someone who does a good job, you hang on to them. Mission teams often comment that I seem to have a guy for everything. Need an appliance fixed? I Got a guy. Need a doctor or specialist? I Got a guy. Need to import your vehicle? I Got a guy. Need special ingredients? Got a guy. But probably the most helpful and in demand, need your car fixed? I got a guy.
There is a missionary mailing list that goes around in Guatemala & often times there are requests by new missionaries about where to find something or someone. As often as possible, I try and take the a few minutes to send a quick response pointing them in the right direction. Proverbs 3:27 tells us “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Many times in scripture, Christ demonstrated this for us, both through his teachings, and his actions.
I vividly remember when I first came to Guatemala, a young 20 year old missionary who didn’t know any Spanish and had never lived in a developing country. It was hard, there were few people to help me out or teach me the ropes. I remember how many times I needed council or advice and didn’t know where to turn. As time passes and I learned how to do things and where to get help, I have tried as much as possible to share that information with others, always remembering Mathew 5:42 “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” This is instruction that is given to all followers of Christ, not just missionaries.
Our first years in Guatemala, our resources were especially meager. Regardless of that, I have always believed, and more importantly, tried to act as if I was only the steward of whatever resources God had entrusted to me and everything I had belonged to Him. It is rare that any of us can meet someone’s needs completely, but I think we can always help everyone in some way, if we trust that God has brought that need to our door, then we can trust that He will provide us with the means to meet it.
God has tested us on this many times, years ago, when we were in extremely tight circumstances, a missionary family we knew with 5 kids was staying in a one room apartment. We had 5 kids in our small home, but we made room and took them in for a few months to help them get on their feet, save money, and move on. We could barely pay our own bills at the time and it was a real stretch for us both physically and financially. Yet, when many others around us with greater resources declined to help, we felt we had no choice.
A ministry leader of a US based missions organization was recently visiting our community center. They wanted to see how we ran our programs as they were setting up something similar. I gladly shared my knowledge, offered assistance and whatever resources I could. Towards the end of our meeting, she told me that I was one of the few missionaries she had met that was willing to help other ministries, most people just didn’t seem to have an interest or desire to partner, serve or work outside of what they were doing. Her words were a great encouragement to me as there have been times when it seemed God was the only one who noticed.
Over the years I’ve lent vehicles to missionaries countless times, my vehicle are old, but we baby them as the roads we drive are rough and we would be hard pressed to replace them. Several times the vehicles have come back in poor shape when we loaned them out to missionaries and they did not take care of them. Did that make it difficult to keep giving? Yes? Did I wonder if I was being a good steward with what God had given me? Yes. But I decided long ago that if I was going to make a mistake in regards to my giving, it was going to be on the side of giving too much and not too little.
When a missionaries have needed help with legal paperwork, immigration's or importing things, I have given up days and days to help them, and it has cost us.
Yet if time is money, and if God is the true owner of all that I have, does not my time belong to him as well?
A few weeks ago I got a call from some missionaries I had met only once. They do a wonderful job running an orphanage far outside the city. The phone call was a cry for help. They were on their way into the city and due to fly out the next morning. Evidently there was a clunk and their microbus was no longer shifting gears. They didn’t know anyone else to call, but they had my number and were wondering what I could do.
That day, like most days, it was an extremely busy one for me. It was the only time I had set aside in the whole week to sit at my computer, get my newsletter done and answer the backlog of emails that had piled up while I was busy teaching and ministering. Going out to help them would mean trying to fit the work in late at night after my kids went to bed and I was tired. But what choice did I have? If that person in need represented Jesus, and he was calling me asking for help, could I really say no?
So I did what I always do, I called around for one of my guys. My first two mechanics where not available, but the assistant of guy number three was, as long as I could drive out, pick him up and take him to where they had broken down. So that’s what I did. While I talked with the missionaries about their ministries, the mechanic was able to diagnose that the bolt connecting the gear shifter to the shifter bars in the transmission had fallen out. Digging through his toolbox he was able to find a nut and bolt that were exactly the right size, fix the van and send them on their way.
As I took the mechanic back to his shop, he asked me if they were close friends of mine. I responded that they weren’t, but they were people in need and that God had chosen me to help them. He was quiet for a minute and then said he didn’t know anyone who would do that for someone they barely knew. I told him that there were many times in my life when I needed help and God sent someone to help me, so I try and help others that God sends my way.
He agreed and told me to call him any time with anything I needed help. I responded in kind and gave him my card.
I got home having missed most of the time I had set aside for the work I had to do, yet rejoicing inside at the opportunity God had given me, not just to serve another one of His children, but that my service could be a testimony to others in the process.
My hope and prayer in sharing this with you, is not to give ourselves a pat on the back, but to encourage and motivate you to be alert and aware of the opportunities in your own life to serve those in need, who God places in your path.
Sometimes being a missionary in Guatemala is about a nut and a bolt.