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Youth team in Guatemala treks to towns & villages

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) — The concept of “giving the shirt off your back” took on an almost literal sense for 37 students and leaders who traveled to Guatemala for a weeklong mission trip in June.

“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 for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “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 mission team, sponsored by the mission board and its Youth Evangelism Conference outreach, encompassed youth from five churches along with several TBMB personnel, including Edwards and disaster relief specialist Wes Jones and his wife Pam, 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 two-day YEC event each March to provide scholarships.

There was some initial concern among the parents of the students about the recent volcano eruptions in Guatemala but Edwards said those worries subsided when the parents were assured that the group would be “nowhere near the eruptions.”

The June 8-16 trip was eye-opening for a large number of the youth for several reasons, Edwards said.

“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 had an ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists since 2016. Garry Eudy, field coordinator for the Tennessee/Guatemala Partnership, served as the point man for the youth missions trip.

The team spent the first night of the trip in Guatemala City, then loaded up in “chicken buses” — “basically jazzed-up school buses,” Edwards said — the following morning for the four-and-a-half-hour drive north to the Lake Atitlan area where they were housed at a Baptist camp while ministering and witnessing in towns and villages near the lake.

“We ate there, slept there and showered there — when there was water,” Edwards 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,” Edwards said.

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 — arts 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,” Edwards said. “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 often would 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, hosted 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,” Edwards said. “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, recounting that 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,” Edwards recounted. “[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,” Edwards said. “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 initiatives 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 painted the building again.

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 for 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,” Edwards said. “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.”

Students participating in the Tennessee trip came from First Baptist Church in Manchester, Ridgeview Baptist in Knoxville, Dixie Hills Baptist in Bolivar, Eagle View Community Church in Cosby and ClearView Baptist in Franklin.