Youth Mission Adventure to Guatemala
The Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) youth mission trip to Guatemala was about more than just building a church and holding some meetings for the people of Poptun. Mission trips are about people and their relationships with God. Some would say the trip impacts the people who go more than the people they go to serve.
For Justin and Jaclyn Lathrop, former tattoo artists, it was about giving back to God. For Nichol Timothy, mother of three and wife of a 9/11 survivor, it was about being involved. For Skyler Bushnell, home-school student from Republic, Wash., it was about refocusing his life on spiritual things. For Jesus Montes, an Upper Columbia Academy (Spangle, Wash.) freshman, it was about going on an adventure.
"We've all come here holding different expectations and different hopes for this trip," said Shane Anderson, trip pastor and construction leader, "but I want you to know that it wasn't just your doing. God has ordained you to be here. Whether you realize it or not, God will be working in your life throughout the week. Building a church for the people of Poptun, Guatemala, is a miracle for them, but God also plans to perform a miracle for you."
As the work on the church progressed and evangelistic meetings and Vacation Bible School were held every night, the 52 trip participants began to become like a family. Working, eating and worshiping together each day created opportunities for friendships and sharing testimonies that had an impact on the spiritual lives of each person.
"I feel so in debt to God for what He has done for me," says Justin Lathrop. "I want to do something for Him. The life I lived before I met Christ was so worthless that I wanted to kill myself. But now I have a burden to help people see how much He loves them and that He can change their life too."
In the small eastern Oregon town where Lathrop grew up, it was normal for him to begin drinking alcohol at age 12, along with all the other kids in the neighborhood. When alcoholism caused him to lose his job, his parents were not angry that he was drinking; they were angry because he had embarrassed them. As a motorcycle gang member, he never killed anybody, but he was involved with people who did. Eventually nothing seemed worthwhile, and he was ready to commit suicide. But before he did, God stepped into his life through the witness of several godly people in Washington's Walla Walla Valley.
"I had tried to quit drinking and doing drugs on my own before," says Lathrop, "but it wasn't until God changed me that I completely lost interest in it. I also quit my tattoo business just before I came on this trip. I was making $300 to $400 per day doing tattoos, but I have become convinced that that's not what God wants me to do. Some of my former clients think I'm crazy, but I know God will provide. Guatemala has helped me build my faith and see more of the power of God and how He can use me."
Now he and Jaclyn are talking about contacting Adventist Frontier Missions or a prison ministry to see what they can do to meet the burden that God has put on their hearts to help others see God's love and transforming power.
Nichol Timothy moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, three years ago because she and her husband, Michael, felt the need to get out of the city and give their family a more secure life. "Michael came home from work on Sept. 11  with soot and ashes covering his suit," says Timothy. "He had seen people die in front of him and watched the building come down. We knew we wanted to move."
Since there was no other accredited Christian school in Sandpoint, Timothy's kids started attending Sandpoint Junior Academy. "The mission trip just seemed like it would be a great experience, and we wanted to be involved," she explains. "I had no idea the rest of the kids from our school would back out, but I'm glad my son Matt and I came because it has strengthened our relationship and we understand each other better."
Bushnell participated in the Guatemala mission trip in 2011. His experience was powerful then, but he found himself drifting away from God less than a year later. "I knew I had lost something I had before. Somehow all the things in my life tend to drag me away from spiritual things, and I felt like I needed to come back to Him again," he says.
At the beginning of the trip, Jesus Montes would have told you he was there because he wanted to help others, but in reality he was just there because he wanted some adventure. "I just wanted to have fun and see a new country," Jesus says. "But somehow making new friends and seeing how the people here live, especially the children, really has made me want to help others. We have so much in the U.S. that we take for granted. These people have so little. And what we did is like a miracle for them."
And there are many more people who experienced miracles like these and whose stories continue to unfold, all orchestrated by God to bring them closer to Him.