It’s been a week since returning from our first distribution trip to Guatemala and I have yet to fully process how completely wonderful the trip was. For days after my return, when people would ask, “How was the trip?” I would give a broad smile and say, “It was the best trip ever. Just absolutely perfect.” However, it was hard to explain beyond that.
This trip was special because it was my first Travel4Souls trip that I lead as a travel coordinator, but also special because I was traveling with a group of friends, old and new alike, from my Alabama hometown area Muscle Shoals and Florence, or as we all call it, The Shoals area.
Perhaps the most special aspect of this trip was partnering with Josh and Jessica Byrd and their ministry, Building Believers in Christ. This was an project that Heath and I began working on over a year ago. For those who don’t know, Heath was my husband and co-RV Tour Spokesperson at Soles4Souls. He passed away suddenly while we were in Texas last July; but prior to his death, we were planning on transferring into the Travel4Souls department at Soles4Souls to lead group distribution trips. Taking a group from The Shoals to Guatemala was our ideal first trip. So to finally find myself surrounded by this group, riding a bus through the streets of Chiquimula, was a beautiful, bittersweet and soul-awakening moment.
Our team of 17 flew from Atlanta early Saturday morning, arriving in Guatemala City by late afternoon. Waiting on us with a big smile on his face and a heavy, familiar Southern drawl in his voice, was Josh Byrd, a missionary from Muscle Shoals, AL who has been living and serving in Guatemala with his wife Jessica for over a year now. With him was our translator, Rachel, who is a native of Antiqua. She would be staying with us for the next 5 days, helping us navigate the foreign language and culture.
For the next 3 full days, our team served the people of Guatemala through a dump distribution, an orphanage distribution, a school distribution and a roof construction project. The first day of distributing at the local dump was heartbreaking. As the local kids spotted us coming down the road, they began to run alongside the van, waving and giggling, a few even hitching a ride on the bumper of the bus. Once there, we distributed 220 pairs of shoes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, candy (life is about balance, right?) and toys. The team also painted the little girls’ fingernails – they loved it!
After leaving the distribution location, we were taken down to the dump, where our team chose to give out their packed lunches. Families actually live in the dump and sort through the trash for treasures to sell or simply use to survive. Our guides told those of us with flip flops to mind our step, but I could not help but notice those with bare feet walking nearby.
Our second distribution of the day was at a nearby orphanage, where we were able to see the stark difference between the children who had a stable roof over their heads but no parents or traditional family, and those children from the dump who had their parents but not much else. The team again washed feet, gave shoes, painted nails, played games and gave toys to the kids at the orphanage. Leaving those sweet faces that begged you (out-loud and with silent, long looks) to take them home was difficult. It was not a advance Technology or internet world but alteast the nature was there.
We spent the following day at a local school, distributing shoes and school supplies and painting nails once again. There wasn’t a dry eye in the pavilion as our team walked. We were met with a standing ovation and song by the school children. Tear-fest! Many of these kids walk hours to get to school, and thankfully the school leaders are able to provide one nutritious meal for them.
Two of participants were also photographers. They spent hours photographing each student and printing pictures for the kids to keep. For these kids, it was their very first picture day. Such a sweet thing! After the distribution was over, we walked down the hillside to a family’s house to replace their rotten palm roof. Thanks to Josh, we were able to replace the palm frond roof with a heat-resistant tin roof that will last about 15 years. The team took turns hoisting wooden beams, measuring cuts, carting tin pieces, and the girls had fun taking turns on the nail gun. To be able to affect a single family of 6 in a very hands-on way, was a great feeling for the team.
Our final day in country was spent in Antigua, soaking up the culture, visiting a chocolate factory, dining on authentic Guatemalan food, and exploring the local markets. Though each previous night’s dinner had been full of great conversation and growing connections, this particular night’s dinner was extremely emotional. Our group had grown beyond close while serving together and had fallen in love with Guatemala, both as a country and as a people. The thought of packing up our suitcases to leave this incredible country seemed unthinkable, and our last supper conversation reflected these feeling. Tears flowed from smiling eyes, laughter and hugs were abundant, new relationships blossomed, and old relationships were renewed.
Even today I cannot fully express the meaning of our travels to Guatemala. I cannot convey just how special each participant on the trip became to me. I cannot communicate the shoulder shimmy, the bus dance parties, cannot explain our inside jokes, our broken Spanish phrases, cannot make you feel the love between our team. But I can tell you that this trip changed each of our lives in very unique ways. We were changed, simply by serving, and we walked away better than we arrived.