Troy Wallace, Walla Walla University
Before I joined the recent North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) mission trip to Guatemala, I had never done anything specifically evangelistic. I’d especially never conducted a reaping meeting to encourage people toward spiritual, life-changing decisions. Honestly, I was a little cynical when it came to “traditional” evangelism. But I thought this project would help me see how God is working in other places outside the U.S.
I was amazed to see the level of dedication some of the Guatemalan pastors have. Some are taking care of more than 12 churches at a time, equipping the saints to run each church on their own. This was so refreshing to see, and I’m convinced it’s more biblical then our pastor-centered churches in America.
Ginardo became my translator and local teammate. Ginardo is a humble man, only three years into the faith. I learned a number of things working with him. Here are several:
- Experience isn’t necessary to do God’s work;
- The Holy Spirit is doing things far beyond our abilities;
- How people respond to spiritual things is not directly related to our “skill” at preaching;
- Sometimes the preacher and translator are the ones most changed;
- The bond you build with your translator is special.
The Guatemalan people were so kind and generous. I was so moved by their willingness to share in spite of their own need. Abner Campos, a Washington Conference pastor who was part of our team, was the recipient of this show of love. One of the host families brought him and the father of that house full plates of food. As Abner finished up his delicious meal, he noticed the father, who had only eaten one quarter of his portion, silently motion to his children to finish the plate because that was all the food they had. This type of generosity is something I have rarely experienced and causes me to think of my own willingness to give sacrificially to others.
This trip also brought me to a deeper understanding of humility. We all had preprinted sermons to preach from, which is nice because the thoughts and themes are all laid out. But I was not really not preaching “my sermon,” something that I’ve always thought would be less than authentic. But authenticity can sometimes be another masked word for selfishness in preaching. Yes, you want to say what you believe, but the sermon is not really about you; it’s about God. I saw that as we worked through these sermons, and my experience became less and less about me and more about God. Each night a small bit of the “me” in ministry died as I saw the Holy Spirit at work.
With communication and language gaps I learned another vital lesson: Silence is communication. It’s amazing how comfortable I’ve become with silence on this trip. We don’t have to speak to communicate. Sometimes just being there communicates the most important lesson — presence matters.
I had not felt the sense of connection to God and others in spiritual things for a long time. This mission project gave us the shared experience and shared focus we needed to truly connect. I think that is what living and working in the kingdom of heaven is like — all experiencing God and sharing Him with each other. It’s something I hunger for.
I want to thank the NPUC for empowering young adults to participate in this work. It’s encouraging to see the support and affirmation from church leadership as we seek to pursue our faith and service to the world together.
Emily Ellis, Walla Walla University
Entering into spring break, I felt completely unprepared to preach my first evangelistic series. I felt as though I had absolutely nothing to give. How could God use me? As I looked around at the others on this mission trip, I was surrounded by pastors, people who had been in the ministry for years, those who spoke Spanish fluently, and people who had been studying theology longer than I had. And yet, each morning in Guatemala we all exchanged testimonies of how God was moving in the churches we were preaching in, how we saw God working in each other, and we prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our churches and in our individual lives.
During this time, God began to change my heart. God used the people in my group to encourage me when I felt like I had nothing to give. God used their prayers to touch me and give me the strength I so desperately needed. I could not preach on my own, and to be quite honest I didn’t want to do it on my own. Every time I made an altar call and I would see the people come forward giving their hearts to God, all I could do was sing praises to Him. It was nothing I said that compelled them to come forward, but it was the Holy Spirit working through me.
One of the pastors, Oscar Santana, said something that carried me through the trip. He said, “We are the messengers, and God is the transformer.” My job on this mission trip was to be obedient to the King, to spend time in prayer and preparing my heart, and God would do the rest. Through preaching and serving, I found the revival I needed. Through interacting with the people of Guatemala and my fellow teammates, I discovered a new love for people. Through the quiet times God gave me over the trip, I gained a deeper connection with God.
Going to Guatemala taught me that all God really wants is a willing heart. He welcomes my brokenness and uses it for His glory.
Joey Barajas, Walla Walla University
My most memorable experience was speaking at the nationwide Pathfinder rally. Cesár De León, NPUC vice president for Hispanic ministries, was supposed to be the keynote speaker for the entire week, but he contracted walking pneumonia and his voice was nonexistent. So, he asked me to preach one night to more than 4,000 Pathfinders.
My initial response was "let me pray about it" — which is the kind way of saying, "Let me think of an excuse to say 'no.'" I did not want to speak, but the Spirit convicted me to accept the call.
I went up that night afraid and nervous, but I was not alone. I felt so much peace after my prayer, and God truly worked that night. I highly doubt I will speak to that many people again, but God works in mysterious ways, so who knows.
What I took away from this trip is that the gospel, love and laughter are universal. Despite the language barrier some of us felt, we can all testify we felt the love and saw the acceptance of the gospel from the people who attended the meetings. The Holy Spirit is going to work as much as you allow it to, and I did a lot of surrendering on this trip. I did not know the people, but I knew that God created them and loved them. He knew them by name, and I was just a simple messenger.
The Guatemalan people would feed me every night at their homes before our meeting and would wait until I had enough to eat before they ate. I noticed this after a few days and offered some of my food to their children to make sure they ate. I want to be as selfless as they were and share my meals with those in need.
Yvanna Hammen-Alvarez, Walla Walla University
On Wednesday night in Retalhuleu, Guatemala, I did not feel like preaching. Every night, we’d drive to the evangelistic meetings at our churches and get dropped off along the way. My church was one of the last churches on the route — a positive thing because that gave me more time to think. On this particular night I was feeling tired and discouraged.
I got to my church, prayed and stumbled through the sermon. The sermon was on words and how we should be good stewards of them. I felt like I was the last person that should preach that sermon, but I made an altar call. I felt hypocritical because I knew I should have been the first person to respond to my own call. By God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s calling, others still came up for the call, despite what I was feeling. I felt inadequate and like I should not be the one evangelizing but the one that should have been evangelized to.
After each evening meeting was through at my church, I’d go over to another team member’s church, Daniel’s church. Here, I’d watch him finish up his sermons and listen to his amazing altar calls. I’d also play with the kids after the service and get to know them. There was one particular little boy would always smile at me but was too shy to come over, so I’d always smile and wave at him as he blushed and turned away.
On Thursday, Daniel was preaching on deciding to follow Jesus. His call tugged at my heart, but I felt unable to move although I saw many other people moving forward, giving their life to Jesus and deciding to be on His team. Instantly I felt a prayer: “God, I want the passion these people have for You.” That was the most sincere prayer I remember praying in my lifetime. At that very moment, the little boy who would always smile at me started walking up the dirt aisle in order to show his love for Jesus and hunger for accepting Him into his life.
Speechless, I watched him walk with conviction, until he got halfway up the aisle. In that moment, he paused his steps, turned his head, and somehow, through a sea of people, looked straight at me and smiled with a nod. Smile still glued to his face, he continued walking down the aisle to continue his proclamation of love. Salty tears carved their way down my face, and my heart felt red and warm.
Mission trips are indeed often focused on the other, those who live in the place being visited. I can gratefully say the Holy Spirit used my words and actions to bring people to Christ. However, I never thought that I, myself, would get a spiritual revival from this mission trip. This trip to Guatemala was not just for those who lived in Retalhuleu. I was evangelized to as well.