I recently returned from a church missions trip to Guatemala.
Epic adventures. Lovely people.
We went for a week, were busy from dawn through late evening, bonded as a team, and saw that the gospel is very much alive…everywhere. One of the most impacting takeaways for me, and I would suspect for our team, was the modifying, shaping, tearing down, and rebuilding of perspective.
The unique nature of perspective
Just what is perspective? There are two definitions that stand out for me: 1) “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view”, and 2) “
Sometimes they can coexist in peace. Other times, like this trip to Guatemala, there are things I see or hear that are at such dissonance with my own worldview that I have difficulty processing it. Meaning, I really did not have a perspective through which to view this with depth of meaning and it troubled me.
Take, for example, the time we spent at the Chimaltenango Dump. This is a local dumping ground where local trash and refuse is brought. I have been to these within the states and they are simply somewhere where I deposit what is not wanted and then leave quickly. There is never an instance where I am looking to both deposit and take from what I see.
Not so here. When our van door was opened, the smell was so distinct that I could literally taste it several hours after we left. It smelled of despondency and no hope. Usually I would not associate those terms with a local dump, but I did so in this case because there were people here, both children and adults. They were not workers. They were here to sustain their life.
Many came there each day to claim the recyclable plastics to redeem for cash. I have recyclable items, but usually they are in the form of a Coke can that is now empty because I drank it. And the bag for them hangs in my garage. Here people are sifting through garbage to find something they could trade for money.
Others have shanties that are set up on site as homes. This is where they live. You could feel the oppression in the air. It weighed heavy. We came with bags of food, clothing, and handmade items to give to those who would receive the gifts. One of our team leaders, who has been to Guatemala multiple times, gave a powerful gospel message about blind Bartimaeus. I was proud of our team – they engaged everyone there, shook hands, gave hugs, and prayed with the hurting.
To be honest, I really did not have a category to process this. I had no perspective, no thoughts or ideas that provided a meaningful interrelationship. I later spoke with a local pastor, Pastor Lazaro, who grew up at the dump and at the age of 17, received a scholarship to attend a Bible seminary. He now has a beautiful family, pastors a church, operates a tutoring program for young children called, fittingly enough, the Dream Center.
Other stories – fresh perspectives
There are many other stories that could be told, from Pastor Edgar who is visioneering a local Christian school where he can minister to 40 K-4 kids. To Pastor Juan, who is pastoring a church, grows and harvests his own coffee beans to provide for his family, while operating a school for 140 troubled youth who are on their last strike before incarceration. To cramming 28 kids into a 13 passenger van so they could come to an afternoon Bible club.
All of these things generated a new point of view, a particular attitude, a fresh set of ideas that have a meaningful interrelationship with my current life.
In a word, perspective. And it was good for me. Really good. And the value of fresh perspectives is that they challenge the status quo of my own thinking. They add to, take from, purge, reshape, and craft.
I have a lens through which I view life, but because of my own brokenness and past experiences, many of my perspectives are flawed. They are lacking. They are both constrictive and restrictive. And my word to you today is not to get out and take a missions trip, though that would be so profitable, but rather rethink ideas that challenge your own.
In a culture of entitlement and being right, we often miss out on the value and worth of others having perspectives that are different than our own. And in the process we become myopic. We no longer are able to relate or have empathy.
Put yourself around ideas, people, and circumstances that are different from your own. Embrace distinctive and diverse. And always push your ideas through the grid of scripture so that any new or altered perspectives have the “smell” and “taste” of the gospel.
This trip was more than just about being thankful for what I have. Though it certainly did that. It was more than just causing me to reassess the value I put on my “stuff.” Because it did that too. Primarily, my perspectives were changed in how I view people and the assumptions I come to based on what I see or have from my interactions.
If all you do is hang around those who think just like you do and only do those things that are comfortable to you, my fear is that, like I, you will miss out on seeing a fullness of life that will shake you at your core and leave you different than you were…but now with a new and valuable perspective.
And the older I get, the more I see that need in my life.