By Caleb Monk, 15 years old
Recently, Margaro (15), Brigido (18) and I had the privilege of packing food bags and Christmas presents for Q’eqchi’ (pronounced “Kekchi”) villages that are in the northern region of Guatemala. We started packing the bags the day before the big trip. Each child was to get a car, cooking set, blanket, or soccer ball depending on their age and gender.
It took us six or seven hours to pack and load into the bus all 645 bags of food and 20 boxes of toys for the four different Q’eqchi’ villages that we were going to visit the next day.
I remember going home that afternoon after having finished loading the food and toys into the bus and just collapsing on the couch, while Mom asked us if we were up to going to go the next day, at four in the morning, on a five hour drive into the mountains. I’m proud to say that the three of us all said yes. We got up at three the next morning (ok, so actually Margaro woke us up at 2:57 a.m., but hey, he was excited) and drove down with Matt and two of his girls that were also going with us. The rest of our group of about 20 was already there and waiting for the driver. One of our group was so excited to go that he got ready at 11:00 p.m. that night and had been waiting for us since then! We all got into the bus, and I wedged myself in-between two boxes of toys and promptly went to sleep for the duration of the journey.
We stopped at a small restaurant about a half hour from the first village to eat breakfast (I got scrambled eggs, Margaro and Brigido made the right decision and ordered the pancakes with cereal and bananas) and then continued ‘onward and upward’. We reached the first village at around 8 and started to unload. It was the largest village we would be visiting, and about half of the food and toys were unloaded there, as well as half of our group who were going to stay behind and distribute the food. The group leader called us back into the bus, and we continued our journey. We reached the second village, and after unloading, the leader asked Margaro and I to stay behind and help (Brigido had stayed in the first village).
The village had a church in the center where we were going to distribute the food and toys, a small, grimy, poorly stocked medical center, and no electricity. The people all spoke Q’eqchi’, the native language of Guatemala, and some of them spoke Spanish. All the women wore the traditional Mayan dresses and shawls, accompanied by the large necklaces and earrings used by their people. There weren’t a lot of men there, our translator said that they were out working, making about a dollar a day picking melons or cutting wood. Most of the houses had thatched palm-leaf roofs, walls of sticks, and no doors.
A Different Life
In the US the poverty rate is a mere 4.5%. In Guatemala, 51% of the population is in poverty, and 13% of that is extreme poverty.
Chickens and pigs roamed the streets and did their ‘business’ wherever they wanted. Make no mistake, this wasn’t some quaint little village trapped in time 4,000 years ago. This was poverty in the extreme. No steady income, no clean water. I tried to put myself in their shoes (even though most of them didn’t have any) and imagined what it would be like to live like this. Maybe a meal a day, no education, no decent clothes or medical care. No internet, electricity or TV. No hope of a better life. In the US the poverty rate is a mere 4.5%. In Guatemala, 51% of the population is in poverty, and 13% of that is extreme poverty.
Could you imagine getting up one morning, and not knowing if your kids were going to eat that day, or that week? Or if you were going to eat that day? I can’t. I’m 15 years old, and I’ve never gone hungry. The thought of spending my life like that scared and shocked me. So I asked myself “Caleb, what can you do to help these people”…
I remember unloading the bus at that village, and this little boy came to help us, elbowing his way through the crowd to make it to the bus. He carried about twenty of the 120 bags that were for this village. That little boy didn’t speak Spanish or English, but he told me something that I will never forget. He didn’t say anything, but his attitude was enough. This little boy was not happy to help, he wasn’t eager. No, this little boy was downright excited to help. Like, jumping up and down excited. Like your team just won the Superbowl or the world cup excited. That was how I wanted to be when I was helping others. I wanted to be excited. Like Superbowl excited. When it was time to distribute the food bags and toys, I waited for that little boy to come and get his present. In the entire bag of toys for little boys there was one Lightning McQueen car that I wanted to give to him as his Christmas present, probably the only present he was going to get for Christmas. When it was his turn to receive the food bag and toy he came up to me and gave me his ticket with his name and age.
Margaro gave him the food and I handed him the Lightning McQueen car, and the little boy just lit up, all smiles and repeated ‘Gracias, muchas gracias’ over and over before turning around and walking up the village road to his house. We finished distributing the food and were waiting for the bus to pick us up when I saw the little boy again. He was playing with a little baby, who I assume was his brother, and was sharing the toy car with him, making ramps and pulling off some very impress jumps for such a novice driver, haha.
I realized that day that I’d been in the presence of Jesus.
The bus came and we started the journey home, during which I did some reflecting. I knew something had changed in me, but I couldn’t figure out what. Was I just tired? Or maybe saddened from seeing so much poverty? Granted, I was both tired and saddened, but it was something else. Then it hit me, giving me goosebumps up and down my arms. I realized that day that I’d been in the presence of Jesus. I had been doing the work of Jesus all morning, meaning that he had been there with me the whole time, and that made me feel, well, great. We got home late that night and my dad came to pick us up, and I could see on the faces of everyone that they could feel the presence of the Lord with us as well. We hadn’t done anything incredible. We hadn’t built a house for a poor family, or taught everyone a skill so that they could get better jobs. All we did was give out some food and a small Christmas present to the children of a village that I had never heard of before. But it was the work of Jesus, and no matter what you do, whether its a huge accomplishment or a small act of kindness, if it’s the work of the Lord, than that means that your being the hands and feet of Jesus. And that, my friends, is something I sure want to be.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’