PERU MISSION TRIP
This past summer a group of young adults went on a mission trip to Peru that was organized by Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas. Elizabeth Gunther, one of the group leaders, was kind enough to share her experience with us:
The plane took off into the air, the first of eight plane rides for the next twelve days. My co-leader, Brian, and I sat next to each other silently, shell-shocked that our journey, after seven months of preparation, had just begun. When we finally started to talk, tears streamed down my face while his blue eyes pooled with tears he was fighting back. The tears were about so much. My tears came from the struggle to decide to go, the struggle to say yes to God when I didn’t want to spend my time, my money, and my energy this way. These tears spoke to my doubt within myself and, if I am honest, my doubt in God.”What difference could I make? Can I really lead this group of young adults? Why did God want me here? Am I enough?”
Typically the way I prove to myself and to others that I am enough is by leading. Successful leadership is based on efficiency, organization, and attention to detail. However, from the very beginning of the trip, I was downright frustrated with the slow, disorganized pace with which the tour of Lima was being conducted. I was even more frustrated with my lack of control. I was in a foreign country, didn’t speak the language, and was dependent on others for transportation. I had no control and could not prove my efficacy as a leader. I slowly felt my worth dwindling away. I tried speaking with the leader in whom we had entrusted our group, but nothing changed. I tried petitioning my co-leader. That didn’t work either.
At this point in the trip, I realized that the trip would not be about me. It would not be about proving to myself or to the group how amazing of a leader I can be. It would be one of self-sacrifice and proving myself to God. It would be one of great trust, self-denial, and survival. It was then I walked into a church and saw my favorite saint friend, Therese of Lisieux. St Therese statues in South America are about as common as St Rose of Lima statues in the United States. One rarely sees them. This would be the only time I would see her the entire trip. She is a saint known for The Little Way. This means doing all things, no matter how small, with great love and sacrifice to glorify the Lord. I took this as confirmation and prayed to her for help to act this way during the trip.
After a few travel hiccups, we got to Piura and were warmly welcomed by the Santisimo Sacramento Missionary staff. We did many things at the mission that would make anyone feel accomplished. In the five days we were at the mission, we built two homes. Each house only took a day to build, as they were made out of bamboo poles, tin roofs, and weaved-material walls. We fixed bikes and delivered food. One would think that these opportunities, where there is a noticeable, lasting, product of your effort, would add to anyone’s sense of worth. However, seeing the poverty, hearing the begging of the family just a block away that also wanted a house, passing hungry kids wherever you went, or just feeling like there was more to give and you didn’t have anything left; these made me feel overwhelmingly small and insignificant. These are not new feelings or struggles in my life. I am a special-education teacher. I constantly fight situations that are bigger than me and have to accept things out of my control.
The other service projects we participated in consisted of the simple action of being present to others. Despite the language barrier, the act of sharing or serving meals, having dance, or even sitting next to a child on the swing was just as valuable as the home we built and the food we brought. This was the culture of the Mission and the people we encountered: anything you did, you were expected to do it with or for someone else. When we went to the beach, we took the two families we built homes for and the special-needs students from the school.
If we went to dinner as a group, we took missionary staff with us, and then our leftovers went to the hungry outside the mission. You gave until you hurt, and then you gave more. You gave what God was then giving through you. Because the things you had didn’t have value, the people you shared it with had value. This was amplified when I was welcomed into the home I had helped to build and spent the night with the family. This family shared their home with us a mere two days after receiving it. This was after four years of sleeping outdoors. The only complaint the mother had was that all of us would not be staying overnight. She wanted us there and wanted to share what she had. My presence had value to her. This wasn’t just because of the house that was given to her. This was a constant theme with whomever we met. The people we encountered accepted us. They saw us the way Christ would see us. It was a celebration of humanity. All of us had worth and were precious in their eyes.
All in all, the trip was amazing in a way that is truly inexplicable regardless of my feeble attempt. It answered all those questions and doubts I first cried over at the beginning of the trip. What difference could I make? I can make a big difference to a small amount of people. Offering the little I have can be enough to make a big change in a few lives. Can I really lead this group of young adults? Yes, but only by servant leadership, example, and denying myself. Why did God want me here? He wanted me to experience a culture where all people are valued and accepted regardless. He wanted me to see my value in the eyes of a stranger whether or not I had proven myself. Am I enough? No, but God is, I just have to allow Him to work through me.
Elizabeth Gunther is the Co-Chair of YAM Lake County, a regional young adult ministry of the parishes in the Lake County area of Vicariate I. You can learn more about YAM-Lake County by visiting their website or like them on Facebook.