Editor’s note: Missioner Erin McHugh tells how an invitation to a Guatemalan family’s celebrations opened her eyes to the hospitality of the Guatemalan culture and the generosity of the people.

Mission is challenging and lonely at times. You are entering into a foreign country with an entirely new culture. You are the outsider in this country, the one who speaks and looks different. You are the one who has to humble yourself, as you struggle to learn the new language and culture. You have to accept that they do things different than you would back home. You are often frustrated and confused, wondering if you will ever understand this new place. However, there is also so much beauty in other cultures and you begin to find yourself falling in love and appreciating the differences.

As a missioner in Guatemala, I have definitely been frustrated trying to learn Spanish and I have been confused by some of the customs here. At the same time, I have been overwhelmingly touched by the kindness of the Guatemalan people. I want to share with you one story, and it is just one of many times I have been touched by their kindness and generosity.

For Holy Week, I went to the local church in the town outside of Valley of the Angels. I walked into this church a complete stranger, however, it wasn’t long though until someone greeted me with a smile and kiss of the cheek, pulling a chair out of the back for me to sit.

After Mass, I was walking back to Valley when one of the families from the church wanted to meet me. I was introduced to a woman, her husband, and her four beautiful children. Since I’m still coming along with my Spanish, I could only make small talk with her, discussing the weather, etc.  Then, next thing I know, she is inviting me to come to her eldest daughter’s fifteenth birthday next weekend.

At first, I thought I must have misunderstood her: there is no way she is inviting me, a perfect stranger! I know how big the 15th birthdays are in Guatemala. But when I realized how genuine the invitation was, I was incredibly touched. I didn’t even know what to say.  Without knowing the first thing about me, she wanted me to come celebrate with her family. I told her I would love to come, and I kept telling her how nice and kind she was to include me.

On the day of the celebration, I showed up at the church to a small gathering of the family and close friends. They were so excited to see me and wanted to make me feel welcome and a part of the celebration. During the Mass, they asked me to bring up the gifts during Offertory. After Mass, we went to their house for a party, where once again they invited me into the festivities and had me dancing with the whole family.

I was truly honored and humbled to be a part of that celebration. I will forever remember their generosity to me, when I was a stranger to them.

My time here in Guatemala is challenging me to be a kinder person. It has opened my eyes to what it means to genuinely care for those around you, including the strangers. It is teaching me to love others through radical hospitality and generosity. I have been humbled so many times during my time here in Guatemala, but these beautiful people are teaching me what it means to be a true servant, and they are examples of what it looks like to open the door to welcome the stranger.

Reflection question: How can you practice hospitality by opening the door to the strangers in your community? How can you respond with humility and gratitude to the generosity shown to you?