By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — The concept of “giving the shirt off your back” played out in an almost literal sense for a group of roughly 40 students and leaders who recently traveled to Guatemala for a week-long mission trip sponsored by the Youth Evangelism Conference and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“Many of the kids left for the trip with a suitcase packed full of clothes, and came home with a virtually empty suitcase,” said Bruce Edwards, youth ministry specialist at the TBMB. “We asked them to bring clothes that they would be willing to donate to the underprivileged in Guatemala, and I think the experience of doing that was very meaningful for many of the kids.”
The 37-member mission team was comprised of youth from five different churches — First Baptist Church Manchester, Ridgeview Baptist in Knoxville, Dixie Hills Baptist in Bolivar, Eagle View Community Church in Cosby and ClearView Baptist in Franklin — along with a handful of TBMB personnel, including disaster relief specialist Wes Jones and his wife, Pam, and Edwards. Jones and his wife are former missionaries to Guatemala.
Every two years, YEC sends a team of youth on an international trip, using the money collected during a special offering at the annual YEC event to provide scholarships. This year’s team flew into Guatemala City on June 8 and returned on June 16.
Edwards said there was some initial concern among the parents of the students about the recent volcano eruptions in Guatemala, but said that those worries subsided when the parents were assured that the group would be “nowhere near the eruptions,” said Edwards.
Edwards said the trip was eye-opening for a large number of the youth for several reasons.
“For many of them, this was their first international trip,” he said. “And for some, it was the first plane ride they’ve ever been on.”
The Tennessee Baptist Convention has an on-going partnership with Guatemala that was approved by the TBC in 2016. Garry Eudy is the field coordinator for the Tennessee/Guatemala Partnership, and he served as the point man for the youth’s missions trip.
The team spent the first night of the trip in Guatemala City, and then loaded up in “chicken buses” — which are “basically jazzed-up school buses,” Edwards said — the following morning to make the four-and-a-half hour drive north to the Lake Atitlan area, where they were housed at a Baptist camp for the following week while ministering and witnessing in the towns and villages near the lake.
“We ate there, slept there, and showered there — when there was water,” he said. “I always tell the people on these trips, I can pretty much promise that you will have water, but I can’t promise you hot water.”
After arriving, the group was divided into two teams: a red team and an orange team.
The red team traveled by boat — making about a 40-minute ride one way each day — to San Pedro. After docking, the team would ride in the back of a truck to the town to begin their ministry.
“Each morning, we went to a different school, and visited every classroom in the school, telling a Bible story, doing a craft, playing a game, and singing a song,” said Edwards.
The schools they visited were an elementary school in the morning and a middle school in the afternoon.
“By the end of the week, we had told the story of Zacchaeus hundreds of times,” Edwards said. “That was our Bible story of our choice, and everything we did — art and crafts and such — was geared toward Zacchaeus.”
Guatemala, unlike America, allows the name of Jesus to be mentioned inside the schools.
“We had a gospel presentation in every classroom,” Edwards said. “They are totally open — and very receptive — to the gospel.”
The red team took sports equipment — everything from balls to sidewalk chalk — and presented it all to the principal for the school’s use. “The schools are pretty poor,” said Edwards. “So, everything we brought with us on the trip, we left at the school for them to have.”
Recess was a time when the kids would often come up and ask questions, and Edwards said he knew of at least five children who prayed to receive Christ during recess.
First Baptist San Pedro, the largest Baptist church in Guatemala, served as the host church for the red team. Each afternoon, the team would deliver food to people who the church had identified as needy.
And every day, it rained.
“I’m talking torrential rain; like 10 inches,” said Edwards. “In the morning, when we would go across the lake, it was beautiful and calm. By about 1 or 2 o’clock, it would start drizzling and by 3, it was pouring. That happened every day. It was the rainy season. Everything we took got wet.”
But the team did not let the weather stop them from sharing the love of Jesus, Edwards said.
One rainy afternoon, the red team navigated over a rocky path to take food to an elderly lady who lived in a one-room house.
“When the group knocked on her door, this lady — she was probably close to 90 years old — answered the door, and the translator told her who we were,” said Edwards. “(The translator) said, ‘we’ve come to your house today representing First Baptist San Pedro, and we’ve brought you a gift.’ She looked in the gift basket and realized it was food, and she started crying.”
It turned out that the lady was a believer, and that very morning she had prayed for God’s help because she had completely run out of food.
“She thought our whole team was angels,” said Edwards. “It was a great teaching lesson for the students.”
The orange team was hosted by a church in Santiago, not far from camp. They were asked to establish missions in areas identified by the pastor.
One of their biggest jobs was painting a school, and they spent one full day on that assignment. Unfortunately, the heavy rain washed away most of the paint just hours after the project was completed. So, the team came back again the next day and re-painted the building.
Their determination was worth it, Edwards said. Many gospel conversations took place during the two days. “The teachers and principals were appreciative,” he said, “and a connection with the host church was made because they knew they had sent the team.”
Each night, the teams would gather together for dinner, and would have times of sharing, planning and worship. It was in those moments, Edwards said, where the team was able to truly grasp the impact that was made.
“We had some long days — and a lot of wet clothes,” said Edwards. “But I believe it was a life-changing trip for many of the kids. Some of them came away with a whole new perspective of what they have and how blessed they are.”