Editor’s note: Former missioner Erin reflects on her time in Guatemala and the many ways love broke all barriers during her time on mission as she readjusts to her life back in the states.
After being back from Guatemala now almost three months, I have found myself taking the time to re-read my journals, blogs, and email updates to help myself process through my life at Valley the last three years. It has been a deeply moving experience for me to see the struggle I went through and all the ways I grew and changed.
I was reminded of deep struggle with Spanish, and my anxiety of interacting with 200 children speaking a language I couldn’t speak or understand. I remember constantly wondering how I would build authentic relationships, or be enough for them. These sweet children calmed me immediately through hugs and patiently guiding me through simple Spanish conversations. Yet, in their warm embraces and in my vulnerability, God was forming a beautiful and powerful language that would transform all language barriers: LOVE.
I was reminded of my anxiety teaching English to the high school girls. I was not hip and often struggled fitting in with my peers. I was afraid I would not understand or relate to them. I knew they were just as anxious about having a teacher, who was a native English speaker as their teacher as I was about my poor Spanish skills working with high school students. But I didn’t want to let those fears or anxieties take control. I didn’t want them to see me as a stranger coming in from another country, pushing a new language and ways onto them. I didn’t want them to be afraid to speak to me, I wanted them to see me as an equal, a friend, a fellow sister struggling and growing in a language that wasn’t my own. My first day of class, it was St. Patrick’s Day, so I went in with Irish Soda bread and my Irish music, ready to break down all the walls of insecurity and just have fun with my new students. It was a beautiful thing that happened I shared my Irish heritage, and patiently taught them an Irish jig, and in return they excitedly taught me their traditional dances. Here, we were not caring about our language/cultural differences, but rather speaking God’s language of love through breaking of bread, and sharing in pure joy and laughter.
As I look back on this day, I realized this was the start of a powerful bond I formed with those girls. We became a family; they called me Mom, and they were my adoptive daughters. We accepted our uniqueness, we embraced our weaknesses and opened wide the doors of our hearts to love, not just any love, but a deep unconditional and life changing love that only God could have given us.
As I continued to struggle with Spanish, my language of love grew deeper and deeper with these precious children. The children always seem to come to me about their challenges or struggles. I was always shocked and humbled as I never felt like I had the Spanish words to comfort them, but I came to realize that they didn’t need words–they needed LOVE. They didn’t come to me for advice; they came to me for love and support. They came to share in laughter, or to have someone whose shoulder they could cry on, a person who wouldn’t judge, but simply be with them. They came to me because I was a person by whom they felt understood and loved.
As the months and years went by on mission, I grew in confidence and daily responsibilities. I began to get weary and exhausted, yet God’s language of love prevailed. I remember one night sitting with some of the girls sharing with them my struggling with being enough. They said to: “Erin- le das tanto amor y ayuda a los demás. Eres nuestro ángel, que ilumina y guía nuestros caminos. Te sientes más como una mamá para nosotros que nuestras mamás, porque siempre estás ahí para nosotros, el bien y el mal, siempre nos ama. Amas a pesar del dolor. Eres una mujer hermosa, con un corazón y alma puro.” (Translation: Erin you give much love and help to others. You are our angel, light and guiding our paths. You feel more like a mom for us than our own moms, because you are always there for us, in the good and the bad, always loving us. You love in spite of pain. You are a beautiful woman, with a pure heart and soul.)
It was in that moment that I felt God was speaking to me, telling me I was enough.
I saw Christ so deeply in these children. I saw him in their warm greetings, kindness, gentleness, patience, and joy. These children were my light in the darkness, my joy in the sadness, my hope and reason to keep going each day. They filled me with so much, a love I had never experienced before. A love in which my heart aches and longs for them today, as I miss them so much! A love that made me feel at home.
A moment I will never forget was my final night before I left to come back to the States. The oldest girls had a surprise for me. They closed my eyes, and led me up the staircase to the upper music loft. When I reached the top, there were the girls with a beautiful long table, with my favorite Guatemalan meal, Pepian, to share. It almost brought tears to my eyes; it felt like the last supper. The girls wanted to have one last special meal together meal and to share in laughter and joy. While this time was filled with sadness as we said our goodbyes, in my heart I felt an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude for the time I spend in Valley, a place where I grew in vulnerability, confidence, and self-acceptance, but most powerfully, in LOVE.
As I look back on my time in mission I realize I didn’t have the best Spanish, and I wasn’t a great English teacher, but I formed powerful bonds in the language of love; a language that has completely changed me. Now I as rest and recharge from also experiencing burn-out on mission, I hear God gently speak to me: “Erin you are my Beloved Daughter. I take much delight in you. Let me heal you. Let me love you. You have given so graciously to others; now it’s your turn to receive my Love. My gentle healing touch in your wounded heart.”
Love transcends all barriers, and opens us to see as God sees.
Reflection question: Thinking back on challenging experiences within your life, was love able to overcome fear and doubt? Where did you find God in these situations?