Just a heads up, these pictures don’t do the trip justice. Nor will my words, but I’ll give it a try.
Early in January of this year, the topic of going to Guatemala and partnering with a non-profit organization, Champions in Action, for a week was discussed within my church congregation. I went to the informational meeting, and I found out that we would be helping with a soccer camp for at-risk youth for a week, but more importantly, we would be talking to them about who Jesus is and how much He loves them. After hearing about this opportunity, I was left with an overwhelming desire to go.
In my opinion, the best part about this organization and the camp is that the kids on the teams go through a year-long mentor ship program in the year following the camp. The mentors act as their soccer coaches, but they also get to know them well and lead them towards Christ. More often than not, these kids are not offered the support, encouragement, and guidance by adults in their lives that they deserve.
In fact, they are expected to grow up and have responsibilities at an early age. Many of their birth parents either neglect or abandon them, leaving them to take care of themselves and potentially their younger siblings. Many of their family members and friends struggle with alcoholism, use illegal drugs, and are involved in gangs. Champion in Action’s mission is to break the perpetual cycle of Guatemalan youth of getting involved in gangs, using drugs, and participating in harmful and violent activities. The mentor ship program has been proven to promote a healthier and better lifestyle for the kids.
A short five months later after first hearing about the trip, a group of 15 adults from my church and I were boarding the plane to go to Guatemala. Over 25 other volunteers came from Pennsylvania and a couple came from Ohio and Texas.
There were 10 soccer teams, with 10 students each, and 5 volunteers were assigned to each one. On each team, there was also one interpreter and two mentors.
On Monday through Wednesday, our schedule looked liked this:
6 AM: morning run and conditioning
7 AM: devotions
8 AM: breakfast
9:30-12 PM: morning training
12-1 PM: beach time for the boys
1 PM: lunch
2:30-5:30 PM: soccer games
6-7 PM: free time for volunteers and nap time for kids
7 PM: dinner
8:30-10:30 PM: chapel
Thursday was a day full of soccer games, as we had our semi-finals and final game of the tournament. Although my team didn’t win, (lost 2-1 in the final game), I was incredibly proud and happy for them! They played their hearts out!!
On Friday morning, many of the kids got baptized in the Caribbean Sea. As the boys had previously made decisions to follow God earlier on in the week, this act served as a symbol that declared their love and desire to have a relationship with God. It was incredible to be able to watch as over half of the kids, who were so timid, angry, and hard-hearted towards others at the beginning of the week, make this decision.
Shortly after baptisms, it was time to say goodbye. While leaving these children was incredibly difficult and emotional, it was comforting to know that they have trustworthy adults who are investing their time and their lives looking after and caring for these young boys. The week at camp was not the end of an life-altering experience, but only the beginning.
The next day, the volunteers were able to visit the city of Antigua for a few hours. My group and I explored the ruins of old Cathedrals and buildings, admired the architecture and history of the old capital of Guatemala and ate yummy food. I hope to go back and really explore the city, as I feel I barely scratched the surface! Hopefully I’m able to.
A few take-aways from my trip to Guatemala:
1) God can use the simplest things, like soccer, to bring people to Christ
2) being uncomfortable and out of my element is okay and freeing
3) the best way to learn Spanish is to be immersed in it
4) only in Christ is lasting joy able to be found–not in athletic ability, success, money, possessions, intellect, or anything else that we so often turn to
5) Kids are still kids and should be able to act like kids, even if they live in extreme poverty, hunger, and broken homes and neighborhoods
6) being on mission doesn’t have to end once the trip does
If you made it this far, thanks for reading this lengthy post!