What grows in my garden … a happy heart

Joy Studer, Director of Children's and Family Ministries, reflects on her recent trip to Guatemala with Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry   I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds. - Ps. 57:9-10

You know what's extremely difficult? Summarizing my trip to Guatemala. You know what is even more challenging? Trying to explain how life changing it was when most of my experience can't be put into words … but sure, let me attempt to do just that. 

I spent ten days in the Cloud Forest of Alta Verapaz outside of Cobán, Guatemala, at a place called Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC). Pictures do not do it justice. The organization I went with, Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry (LPGM), focuses on partnerships, working alongside communities, versus missions, where you might do something for the community. I can't express to you what this organization is doing in so many areas of the world, but I'll summarize by saying they are rock stars. So, said rock stars invited me along on their trip with three weeks to prepare and absolutely no idea of what to expect, but I blindly leapt for the opportunity knowing that sharing Godly Play® was the reason for the invite.

When we arrived at the CCFC site, I was blown away. Not only by the hospitality of the people, but by the many layers that this organization had going. They had children coming in from the villages to stay for a week at a time where they would have beds, delicious meals, and running water. The children would learn about different species of birds in their area, as well as different plants and trees. They would take my hands and have me follow them blindly into dark caves. I have to say I never questioned them. Their smiles were contagious, and they were sponges, willing and wanting to learn. Apparently, I say "wow" a LOT, because by day three, every time they saw something new they would show me and say, "JOY! WOW!" They made my heart happy.

I walked through rows of lettuce, blackberries, fruit trees, and coffee plants with fireflies dancing all around me. I learned which plants in the area could contribute to a balanced diet. Sadly, the Guatemalan people commonly burn down their area of Cloud Forest and grow corn … just corn. In turn, they become diabetic. If you have hardly a drop of clean water, being diabetic is a tough diagnosis to handle. CCFC teaches the women and children how to live off their land, what to grow, and how to sustain it.

On the last day with the children, I walked with them and blew bubbles, which made them laugh and giggle madly as they followed me. We hiked up a large hill and when we got to the top we planted trees together. This was a very special moment for all of us… even without being able to communicate in Q'eqchi, I was able to tell the kiddos we were going to take turns digging and planting. It was hot. They were very thankful for time to take a break in the shade.

The smiles we passed back and forth working together will be forever in my memory. After we planted over 50 trees, each child was given a tree to take home and plant. This way they could remember CCFC and their time at the center and this tree would give them and their family fruit to eat. It is a beautiful gift and their faces lit up when we handed them each their own tree.

There's so much we don't see as we live our lives so peacefully here in the United States. We can take a lot for granted. During my trip, a poem by Wendell Berry was repeated in my mind. To me, it hit every part of the trip—from my walks in the evening, to venturing blindly into caves; from the hurt the people have gone through and continue to battle, to the graciousness with which they greeted us travelers and showed us what they could; from genuine smiles they gave without reluctance, and the happiness with which they lived, even those who have nothing but each other ... but to them, that was enough. We all have much to learn. 

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