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Missions

Guatemala Week: Day 5

Guatemala Week: Day 5

This post concludes GUATEMALA WEEK on our Watershed social media channels (Facebook & Instagram) and blog! Throughout the week we’ve featured content written by participants from Watershed’s trip to Guatemala last month to visit our global partners, EducateBV. You can read each full-length post and view pictures we've posted here on the blog.

By Josh Banning

For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed being involved in the local non-profit community, whether that was through holding executive positions within a non-profit, attending fund raisers, tutoring kids, etc. I’ve also learned a lot going to Watershed for a little more than a year and have read some powerful books. When I heard about the opportunity to go to Guatemala, although hesitant at first, I had a feeling it would turn out to be powerful in some undeterminable way.

Shortly after arriving in Guatemala, we were already off to deliver a food basket in the village. As we walked, Mark and Gina graciously provided background and context for this community of houses made of block and sheet metal. The parents and children waved with curious smiles as we walked by while Mark and Gina greeted them by name.

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The differences in our two worlds were apparent immediately: a life of abundance compared to a life of scarcity and essentials. Upon completion of the tour Mark pulled us all together for a small orientation at the school.

  In our orientation Mark stated there were two underlying messages for this experience. The first one was to “Love All, Worship One.” The phrase is written on all their shirts and is the basic mission of what they do. The second message was to hold your expectations at bay and attempt to truly connect with the culture. For the most part, they seemed like easy rules to live by for the week.

The first full day of our trip we walked over to meet an amazing group of Guatemalan individuals who have started a new church in the village called the Salvation of Refuge. Primarily we were there as labor to help them level land and begin building the church, and as soon as we came in we were just that. All of us grabbed post-hole diggers and worked our way down the line of columns.

Almost immediately I noticed some issues with the foundational layout of the church, but I remembered that I wasn’t there to change their way of doing things. I already had my job digging holes and I could tell they were appreciative of our help. However, as the morning went on I decided I couldn’t just stand there, so I attempted to discuss the foundational layout with the men in charge before we broke for lunch.

When we returned after our lunch break, the pastor approached me with curiosity. He said his team reviewed what we had discussed and they also saw the errors in their layout. Despite the language barriers we utilized our collective knowledge to lay out a sustainable structure for their vision. Through engagement and mutual understanding, our role morphed into something greater.

That evening the pastor and his congregation of twenty joined us for dinner. They poured their passion for their church and community into each one of us and expressed appreciation for the knowledge and labor we provided.

We are a part of that tremendous passion now. I’ve seen pictures of the church since that day… (cue lump in throat).

The second day of our trip was largely the same for the men of the group. The overall team built a kitchen for a family in need. It was a very basic layout and it took us only a handful of hours. Again, it was rewarding being amongst the community and visually seeing how our efforts will help this family out, but something started getting under my skin…

In a place of such poverty, how does a beautiful school with perfectly trimmed grass not come off as the knight and shining armor? The epitome of wealth and prosperity? Privilege providing handouts to the under-privileged? How is the school correcting the broken foundational structures of poverty?

So of course… I asked Mark.

His response was simple: We don’t need to martyr ourselves of external possessions just to help out those in need. The school is a symbol. It’s a symbol of hope, it’s a symbol of change, and every dollar is utilized to reinforce that mission.

Each morning we watched the school children come in at 8am, but on the third day of our trip we were able to witness the kids on a typical school day. As we helped out in English class through various games, each interaction attempt was met with the biggest smiles of joy and appreciation from the kids. After three periods with that age group, we moved on to help out with the pre-kindergarten kids. We started with soccer and other games, but quickly moved on the big surprise, a slip and slide. All the kids were overjoyed, as well as some of the adults of the group! I was able to catch a video of Mark playing with the kids and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier person in my life. Every single heart was exploding that day, and that’s when it really hit me…

Mentally I completely understood the services DeepStream provides: education, a health clinic, labor and support when needed. To participate in an act of service in the face of injustice is one thing, but to provide those services because they are a byproduct of the extreme love you are living in is another. Everything started to make so much more sense. The Schmidt family consistently works from a source of extreme love, and every single task they take on flows out of that.

Wednesday night came and, as they do each week, Mark and Gina hosted a dinner for a group of the teens. The way the students engaged with all of us, you could feel their excitement for the future, their appreciation for the school, and their sense of hope for the community and themselves. Their souls weren’t defeated because of the poverty they were placed in, that wasn’t what affected them most. It wasn’t a factor of the have and have not’s. It was a factor of believing in your true self and connecting out of love.

As we ended our last day the message was clear:

Love All. Worship One.

Every person we met and talked to shared the same common traits: Hope, love and appreciation. That’s exactly what that school and the Schmidt family emanated.

I’ll never forget those smiles, the warmth in the hugs, and the love that was shared in Guatemala. The whole experience was a show on how to live out a place of love. We all don’t need to move to Guatemala, because those opportunities are around us every day. We all have been given opportunities others haven’t and we have the ability to do our part.

But first, we need to make sure our focus is right. It’s not about what you’re doing, it’s about where it’s coming from. Once you connect with the true source, boy is it powerful. Then we can be the wheat within the weeds and some of our broken foundational structures can truly be addressed.

Thank you, Watershed.

Interested in learning more or joining our next trip to Guatemala? Email info@watershedcharlotte.com!

Guatemala Week: Day 4

Guatemala Week: Day 4

It’s GUATEMALA WEEK on our Watershed social media channels (Facebook & Instagram) and blog! This week we’re featuring content written by participants from Watershed’s trip to Guatemala last month to visit our global partners, EducateBV. Follow along as we post several pictures and thoughts throughout each day. Full-length blogs by contributors will be linked in each day’s final post.

By Jen Ford

In today’s world, it is so easy to get lost in mundane, the routine. To forget what it’s like to be excited or have passion about what is going on around you or even the future. To actually have hope. In visiting Guatemala for the second time, I was reminded how hope and passion can come alive in you again from two simple, yet impactful situations: a field trip and seeing the home of a student. And not just any student, but someone who I have gotten to know over the last year and half by sponsoring her through the Gateway program at Educate BV.

For the students in Buena Vista, field trips are a rare occurrence. Many of them don’t have the resources to buy their uniforms or school snacks, so how could they provide for a field trip? Our team was able to pay for the school bus and the admission to Mayan ruins for the 7-9th graders in the program. For many of these students, it was their first time leaving Buena Vista, let alone seeing anything about their native heritage.

I sat next to a young girl on the school bus on the way up. I didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t speak English, so you can guess what happened on that trip. Silence, but at the end there was a peace offering when she gave me a small piece of candy. No words; it was just a simple thank you for helping them get out of the classroom. We all know what that felt like!

As I watched the students appear to be listening to the guide and then, during free time, chat and laugh with one another and wander from the artifacts, it reminded me no matter where we find our freedom and adventure, that is what life should be about. And to look around and see there is more to the world than the situation we are in and realize we can achieve so much more when we have support around us. On that trip I hope the students realized that they do have support: from the Schmidts, from their families, and even from complete strangers who don’t speak their language but sit next to them on an hour-long bus ride just to bring them somewhere they have never been.

Jen and Cindy are on the left side of the picture - Cindy is wearing an orange vest.

Jen and Cindy are on the left side of the picture - Cindy is wearing an orange vest.

When I signed up for the trip, to say there wasn’t a slight selfish motive would be a lie. Since the start of the last year’s school year, I have been supporting and sponsoring Cindy Paola through the Gateway program. She is currently an 11th grader and will graduate this year. I was able to talk to her (through a translator ;)) and get to know her at the Bible study and dinner on Wednesday night. She is a typical teenager trying to navigate what she wants and desires versus what society is telling her to do. She is trying to finish her degree when everything in that culture tells her she should be home starting a family already.

While we were on the field trip with the younger students, she and the rest of the 11th grade class went to visit the university to understand their programs and their options. Once we got back, we stopped at her house to see where she lived and to ask her how the trip went. Cindy Paola was so excited about what she saw - you could see it on her face as we talked with her. Her dreams and goals were coming alive as she realized they were actually obtainable! Even though this trip was my first time truly meeting her, I felt proud. Not from a financial perspective, but from a faith one. Cindy Paola has been in my prayers and on my heart since I became her sponsor. I know personally what it’s like to go against the grain and I’ve prayed she would too. I’ve prayed that she could find the hope and passion to achieve something greater and build a future for herself and her family.

I know most sponsors of the students in the Gateway program never have the opportunity to meet their students face-to-face. I was fortunate enough to look Cindy Paola in her eyes and say, “You are loved, supported and, most importantly, not alone. There are people all over the world praying for you and your classmates, knowing that your circumstances may seem to be blocking you, but God has a plan and you can overcome all of your challenges with His help.”

And while Cindy Paola needed to hear that, the reminder was good one for us as well. 

Guatemala Week: Day 3

Guatemala Week: Day 3

It’s GUATEMALA WEEK on our Watershed social media channels (Facebook & Instagram) and blog! This week we’re featuring content written by participants from Watershed’s trip to Guatemala last month to visit our global partners, EducateBV. Follow along as we post several pictures and thoughts throughout each day. Full-length blogs by contributors will be linked in each day’s final post.

By TJ Sullivan

How can we live with joy in our hearts? How can this continually flow out of us regardless of our circumstances? And how can that joy be a reflection of God’s love for us and for those around us?

Since returning from Guatemala, these questions have been ruminating in my heart. The DeepStream motto of “Love All, Worship One” has challenged me to question how my life can exude joy and be an example to others every day.

One day of our trip in particular stuck with me when it comes to loving all and living with joy. The itinerary seemed simple enough: English class in the morning, a water day with the preschoolers, and gardening in the afternoon. But the love the Schmidt Family has for the people of Buena Vista and the joy the villagers live with was most evident to me on that day.

It jumped off the page as we celebrated students’ achievements playing Bananagrams, Jenga, and Memory to practice words in English. It resonated throughout the village in the shouts of laughter from the preschoolers riding on our backs down the Slip-N-Slide, not to mention how fast their little legs carried them back up the hill for another ride! Otra, orta! Another, another! The contagious nature of that joy was especially evident when two mothers of the students decided to join us in sliding down the wet, soapy plastic.

There was joy in the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the property gardens, stumbling over phrases in Spanish together. God’s fingerprints could be seen through the heartfelt thanks Jose (the property manager) showered us with, not just for the help in planting new crops, but in his gratitude for new friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ. It wasn’t about how many seeds were sewn, it was about the joy of knowing they are loved and cared for by a community some 2,600 miles away.

Since returning home I certainly haven’t been perfect in leaning into the loving, joyous life God calls us to that was so evident to me in Buena Vista. I’ve gotten frustrated at work, annoyed in the parking lot that is now I-77, and discouraged when things don’t follow the plan I’ve laid out in my head. But the bracelet on my wrist from Guatemala has helped bring me back to memories of the trip.

Despite the challenges of living in one of the most impoverished parts of one of the world’s poorest countries, there is a joy oozing out of the people there. I believe that joy comes from the love God has for them, and that love is displayed by the work DeepStream is doing daily in their community.

On that Wednesday in Guatemala, God’s love was manifested to the people of Buena Vista in Jenga, Slip-N-Slides, and planting crops. But that was just Wednesday, and every day DeepStream purposefully finds ways to love all in the community. To me the memories of the smiles, laughter, and warm hugs are a constant reminder that, in spite of our circumstances, God loves us deeply and calls us to share that love and joy with everyone around us. 

Guatemala Week: Day 2

Guatemala Week: Day 2

It’s GUATEMALA WEEK on our Watershed social media channels (Facebook & Instagram) and blog! This week we’re featuring content written by participants from Watershed’s trip to Guatemala last month to visit our global partners, EducateBV. Follow along as we post several pictures and thoughts throughout each day. Full-length blogs by contributors will be linked in each day’s final post.

By David Avalos

We arrived in the beautiful village of Buena Vista Saturday evening. Nothing was planned for the first evening except for an orientation by the Schmidts, yet the group was full of excitement and anticipation for the week to come. The Schmidts suggested that we keep our minds open and not have any expectations. The next day would be a full day of work. We were told that we would help clear some land and build a church for a new congregation that was starting in the village. What we didn’t know was that the Pastor of the church, Marcos, would share a revelation that would have us all in awe.

We arrived at a simple home with a large field used for farming. As we unloaded materials, we were informed that the family who owned the farm decided to give this section of their land to the new church as a gift. After introductions were made with Pastor Marcos and some members of his congregation, Pastor Marcos told us the church’s story…

He and his small congregation had been had been meeting in people's homes and in other spaces for several years, but they had been praying about building a church. They dreamed of having their own church, but they lacked the funds. When the farmland was offered to them, they were overjoyed, however they still lacked the funds for materials. They prayed about it and decided to clear the land anyway. Although they lacked the money, they knew by faith alone that God would provide them the resources they needed.

They began clearing the land and, shortly after, were told that God had heard their prayers! They had been given the funds needed to build their church. Not only were the funds provided, but the sponsoring church was also there to work side-by-side with them to get their church started! Yes, Watershed not only made it possible for them to purchase materials, but they sent the manpower to help them build.

As if that was not enough, these men of pure faith drew some simple sketches of what they wanted their church to look like. However, they were not architects and did not fully understand all that was involved with construction. However, a member of our team, Josh, is familiar with construction because his father was a contractor. Josh was able to provide some very helpful suggestions to assure the church would be built safely. Pastor Marcos and his congregation prayed and gave thanks because, not only were their prayers answered, God also sent them a church whose members worked alongside them and an engineer to assure their church was sound!

Asamblea de Dios Refugio de Salvación is an Assemblies of God church with the name "Shelter of Salvation." Their members are eternally grateful to Watershed for providing them the resources, financially and physically, to help their dreams come true.

Guatemala Week: Day 1

Guatemala Week: Day 1

It’s GUATEMALA WEEK on our Watershed social media channels (Facebook & Instagram) and blog! For the next five days we’ll feature content written by participants from Watershed’s trip to Guatemala last month to visit our global partners, EducateBV. Follow along as we post several pictures and thoughts throughout each day. Full-length blogs by contributors will be linked in each day’s final post.

By Jill Kays

I am fairly new to Watershed, attending about 5-6 months. The church was an instant fit for me and has continued to be so. I have past experience with overseas mission work and a passion for service and people, so when I heard about the opportunity to travel with Watershed to do this kind of work, I was immediately interested. I didn’t know anyone, but went in with an open mind and heart, ready to love on others and receive whatever truths I would learn. I knew it would be great, but I honestly think I underestimated how amazing it would be. I came away from the experience overwhelmed with a sense of love, gratitude, and humility. I was inspired by the Schmidt family (the family we partner with), the work that is being done in that community, and, most of all, by the people of Buena Vista.

This town is small and very, very poor. Most people live in overcrowded shacks with dirt floors. There is a lack of clean water and good nutrition. The children are all very small, due to the malnutrition. Sixteen year olds look like 12 year olds. Six year olds look like toddlers. There is a cycle of poverty that keeps people stuck in these situations, including poor education, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, domestic violence and gross lack of resources. Going into this type of setting, it is easy to feel “sorry” for them and assume the worst… that everyone is miserable and hopeless. However, while there is certainly some of that, what I was most struck by was not the misery or hopelessness, but the opposite. I was impressed by the hope, joy, resilience, and drive of the people, particularly the children. The Schmidt family’s impact is noticeable: they are providing an education to these children, pouring love on them, giving them good nutrition and positive experiences, and showing them their future doesn’t have to be dictated by their past… and it’s working.

When I talked to these children, I was humbled by how much they have already experienced in their short lives. For example, I rode on the bus with a 16-year-old girl named Jessica. I asked her what she liked to do outside of school, expecting her to give a normal teen answer like listen to music, talk about boys, or something along those lines. She shared nonchalantly that after school each day she travels to the fields to work on the farms so she can earn 5 quetzal (about $0.66) a day. Three of those quetzal is spent riding the bus to and from school so that she can get an education; the rest goes to her family.  I was instantly hit with a sense of sorrow… saddened that this beautiful young girl isn’t able to really get a carefree childhood. However, she did not share my sorrow and showed no desire for pity… only a sense of strength and resilience. For her, this is life, and the only life she knows.

Jessica is very smart, one of the top students in her class. She loves school and plans to go to college to become an architect. She is hopeful about her future, has a contagious smile, and you would never know for one second the struggles she endures if you didn’t dig deeper. Jessica’s story is similar to many of the stories I heard from the students. They acknowledge the challenges and difficulties they face currently, but they have joy and are focused on their hopes, dreams, and a desire to make a different future for themselves and their community. The Schmidt’s school has provided them with a refuge where these kinds of dreams are possible.

In addition to the school, the Schmidts shower love on this community by meeting some of their needs when possible – they rebuild kitchens to allow for safer living environments, provide food baskets, and offer free medical care to some members of the village. This kind of unconditional love empowers the community, sending a message that we see you, we care about you, and you matter. It’s beautiful.  One of the things I most enjoyed was that, even though we don’t speak the same language, live in the same culture, or have the same life experiences, this universal language of love was easily understood… and it was powerful. To me, this is God: this force of good and love that moves people toward hope and unity. God’s presence was evident there in Buena Vista and in the work being done.

Each one of us on the trip was moved by the experiences of the week. Several talked about not wanting to leave and hoping to come back in the future. We ended the last night with a long discussion around a firepit, processing our time together. Mark asked each of us, “If you could stay here another month, what would you want to accomplish?”

Each of us shared a vision we had, reflecting our individual passions and talents. David shared about his hopes for the medical facility, I shared about my desire to build relationships with the people and improve access to mental health care, and so on. Mark’s response… ”Do that where you are called.”

He reminded us that while we may not be called to Guatemala, each of us has a calling, a passion, and we can live out that calling to serve others whenever and wherever we are. It was a powerful message and a great reminder that all around us are hurting people, hurting communities, and we can make a difference right where we are.

We are so fortunate in this country. The contrast becomes overwhelming when you go to a third world country like Guatemala. The suffering and injustice is right in front of your face, so it’s hard to ignore. However, in America this is often not the case. It is easy to get caught up in our daily lives, Instagram posts, and soccer practices and lose sight of the hurting world around us.  I will be the first to acknowledge I am guilty of this. However, this trip was a good wake-up call for me and my hope is that we can start to gradually wake up and, as a community, can continue to be as outwardly focused as we are sometimes inwardly. It’s a slow and difficult change, but one that I think is possible.

I am so thrilled to be a part of the Watershed community and look forward to continuing to witness the work being done locally and internationally to enhance justice and make a positive difference. I am inspired to be a part of that work in whatever way I can and I hope you will too.

LOVE ALL, WORSHIP ONE.