I love footprints. I really do. I love seeing my kids footprints in the sand. It’s so awesome. I like to look back to where we have walked when we go to the beach and see their footprints. And then the ocean wave rolls in and covers up the footprints and they’re gone. Here for a moment.
I remember when I first led the Mt. Bethel Students to Succtoz Belize and we were working on a sidewalk down at the Nazarene Primary School. At the end of the project, the students wrote their student ministry name in the wet cement and the year. I thought how awesome is that. It’s like a footprint but it won’t wash away. They made an impression in that concrete. And every since they have come back. They have made an impression not only in the concrete but in the lives of the communities they have served.
Am I really making a difference is a phrase or question that often gets asked of some short-term mission teams? They want to know if for a week or a brief, fleeting moment if they are really making a difference. These people may look around and see poverty, see sadness, see hurt and wonder “what can I do?”
Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to field this question several times over the last couple of years. A story….
When we first moved to Belize, Burton and I set off to Armenia, a Maya Village just south of Belmopan (the capital) to see if we could find a ministry partner there. The village is compelling, picturesquely situated just as one enters the Maya Mountains. It’s a mix of farm land, grass style huts, indigenous Mayans from Southern Belize, and Central American immigrants. The village is laid out in a perfect grid to allow for ease of home visiting, save for the mountains that we have to climb. But it is perfect.
Burton and I didn’t really know where to go to start off at. Our plan was to go to the shop or the school and ask who the pastor was in the village. This question is often a loaded question as there are frequently MANY pastors in the village. Armenia is no different; it is home to 12 churches.
We meet a woman and the convienence store and she says she knows her pastor. We converse and she mentions very meekly that it is her husband. We ask where the church is and she walks us back to her house. We go inside and meet her husband. And honestly I had never meet more meek people in my life. They were so reserved quiet. Almost like they were filling us out. And Pastor’s wife, she didn’t say a word.
Burt and I left that meeting with the uneasiness that comes from leaving a meeting you aren’t too sure of. With new ministry partners, there are three typical outcomes of the first meeting: overwhelming yes, overwhelming no, and uneasiness. We were in the middle. We stopped at the primary school and asked the principal about the churches. He literally told me “there are 12 churches in this village and only 2 churches have ever helped us with anything, Pastor Jesus and (another pastor in the village). Our uneasiness went from uneasiness to absolutely certain that we had to get a team to Pastor Garcia.
In June of 2013 we had a team serve at Pastor’s church and immediately the connection was evident. Through broken spanish, and broken english, the Lord knitted together two communities. It wasn’t that week about what the “team was able to do.” It was about “who the team was able to share”. Jesus (the savior not the pastor as his name is Jesus too) came in and changed lives. As He was changing lives, hearts were woven as one. A difference was made. Still not a word from the Pastor’s wife.
The team left and from that overwhelming AWESOME experience at Pastor’s church we knew we had to get more people to encourage his church, his ministry, his vision. Armenia was ripe for Harvest, The Lord is guiding pastor. I asked him one day “How do I encourage you?” He said in the only way that he can “Thank you brother Josh. We ask that you let brother Michael and the team know that they made a difference here.” I told him yes.
2014; We had three teams serve in Armenia. One of the teams served the church by laboring on the floor. One team in July served to build the back wall and do some children’s ministry and…
In June 2014, the team returned. They returned equipped. They were ready to do more. The pictures you have seen and stories you have heard / seen shared on this blog. Lives were touched. We missed some things (as I wrote about a month ago) and we got some things right.
But the thing most I took away from there was the richness of the relationship between the team and the local church. These folks from Alabama (War Eagle and Roll Tide) adopted the entire village of Armenia. They gave away shirts, worked on a bathroom, gave money for a chicken coop. But again it was the relationships that matter most. Women ministered to women. Children had joy. Those who were hopeless had hope. Women opened up. Pastor smiled a little more. Made jokes a little more and his wife shared – some, although still stoic
But life must go on. For the team it meant going home, leaving their friends in Armenia. For the villagers it meant back to the grind. The joy of my job is that I get to see what life is like after the encouragement happens….kind of like the “After the Final Rose” show from the Bachelor or Bachelorette. I get to drop in on our ministry partners and talk about life, minstry, the community and God.
I was fortunate enough to stop in Armenia the other day to talk about a few things and I was brought back to the time that I first met this family. The shyness, meekness yes, but really shyness they had as they pseudo welcomed me into their home. Not this trip. This trip Pastor bounced out of his house welcoming us in. The kids were in and out of playing with us trying to be part of the conversation. It was pure joy. We were family. The impact, the difference the team made in the life of pastor was real. Like usual Pastor’s wife didn’t say much. But as we go to leave, she stops us and then launches into almost 20 – 30 minutes of talking, sharing, laughing crying. She shared on the difference the team has made in her life, and in the lives of the women. She was excited and full of life. She was encouraged. She thanked God for sure but she was thanking God for using the women from Alabama to encourage her. A difference made.
We left pastor’s house and made our way around the village, checking in on a couple of projects. We went and saw the chickens and coop that are the start of a feeding program. While we were there, kids came pouring out of the neighboring houses and we noticed that they were wearing the dresses provided by the team. We played for a while and had to be on our way.
As we were pulling out of the village, we reached a crossroad and a motorcyclist drove past. Paula was with me hit me and said “you see his shirt?” It was a shirt given out by the team on an adult. It said “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, the sweetest name I know”. I wept
Am I making a difference the team may ask? The answer is yes, more than we will ever know.
This story could be a story about any number of villages, I have had the opportunity to visit, as God is making a difference through the local church all over this country. I am blessed to be able to facility people encouraging and partnering with our local churches in ministry. Together, the teams,working under the authority and guidance of the local churches, operating in lock-step with the Holy Spirit are making kingdom differences in Belize. Praise God that we get to be on the front lines.