Guatemala 2019 - Reflections from Teacher Chris Culley

A couple of months ago, I had the immense honor of traveling to Guatemala and serving the Lord alongside my CCA family. This was my first time outside of the country, and it was awesome getting to experience that with some of our students. I had always heard that going on an international mission trip would be a life-changing experience, but I really couldn’t have imagined just how much we would all learn and grow together over the course of the trip.

It’s funny, because I kind of already had a preconceived idea of the lesson I would learn on the trip. We would go to Guatemala, see their quality of life, and return home more grateful for the things that we previously took for granted. I am, of course, extremely grateful to have access to clean water and a stove, but as we served and interacted with the families of Cobán, the Lord exposed a spirit of pride -- or perhaps American exceptionalism -- in my heart, which assumes that a person is only “blessed” to the degree that their physical needs are being met. This is the exact opposite of the message of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the types of people who are truly blessed, and not once does He refer to material possessions, physical health, or ease of living. On the surface, the families we met on this trip might not appear to be “blessed,” but it did not take long to see the joy that they had in their hearts as they relied on the Lord together. Before we left each home, as we prayed for the family and their new stove, they would begin praying for us as well, knowing that we need the Lord just as much as they do.

I don’t mean to imply that material possessions are not also blessings from the Lord. He loves us and cares about our well-being, and “every good and perfect gift is from above” (Jm. 1:17). But the lesson that God taught me on this trip is that I am not more blessed than anyone else simply because I have more stuff. And really, the stuff I have doesn’t even belong to me! “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). God has called us to be good stewards of the resources that He has entrusted to us, which means living a life of generosity and service, as we acknowledge that everything in all creation belongs to God. When we give of our time and resources, that should not lead us to boast in ourselves, but to boast in the God who is the creator and sustainer of all things. There is infinitely more joy and fulfillment in Christ than the things of this world, and I am so thankful to have learned this lesson in a very tangible way with the students and staff of CCA.

The path to joy in Christ, however, is not an easy one. The devil will do everything in his power to try to keep us from walking with the Lord. In the days leading up to the trip, I faced perhaps the most intense spiritual warfare of my life. I couldn’t explain why, but I had this persistent, overwhelming sense of futility that caused me to question why I was going on this trip, or why I do anything at all, for that matter. As I prayed and shared these feelings with other people, it became clear that this was the enemy’s attempt at throwing me off track and rendering me ineffective in the work we were going to do. Satan “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10), and he hates to see people coming together to serve the Lord. It should come as no surprise to us, then, when the most spiritually significant seasons of our lives are met with the most fervent opposition.

To say that I immediately felt peace or a renewed sense of purpose upon arriving in Guatemala would be a lie. The first couple of days were pretty tough for me -- and for a number of our students -- as we let ourselves dwell on our various anxieties and insecurities, rather than on the unbelievable experience we were having in a new country, and the amazing God who sovereignly orchestrated every detail of our lives in order to bring us to this point. But once we began serving the families of Cobán, we were forced to take our minds off of ourselves and devote our time and energy to serving the needs of others, which brought about genuine joy and peace that could only come from walking with the Lord. God has a way of bringing us outside ourselves in order to give us a proper perspective on things. I have found that focusing my thoughts on myself only leads to a perpetual state of anxiety and depression, while serving the Lord by serving others produces within me a joy that cannot be shaken.

Throughout the week, as we built stoves and water filters in people’s homes, served alongside the HELPS medical team, and talked and prayed together as a family, I was constantly reminded of Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” There is no greater joy in life than walking with the Lord, in community with fellow believers. God has called us to live lives of self-denial (Lk. 9:23) and service (Lk. 22:26). When we operate outside of that calling, we are choosing death for ourselves. But when we surrender our hearts to God and set our minds on the Spirit, we get life and peace (Rom. 8:6). I think I can speak for all of us when I say we experienced life and peace as we served the Lord together in Guatemala.