Local youth share experience of Guatemalan mission trip

EVART — Earlier this month, 18 teens and four adults experienced life in a Central American country while spreading the message of Jesus' love.

Under the direction of youth leader Rob Rounds, teens from Crossroads Community Church in Evart traveled to Guatemala for a 10-day mission trip. Overseas trips occur once every three years, while the group travels to Grand Rapids and Chicago other years. The trips are paid for with the help of fundraisers, with each individual collecting about a third of the funds on their own.

"Going overseas every year would be a lot I think, but we try to do it every three years so it gives the youth a chance to go out of the country at least once while they're in high school," Rounds said. "We've also gone to Costa Rice and Nicaragua, but this is the first time we've been to Guatemala. I have a contact there, Bob Henriques, who is affiliated with the ministry company Camino Global."

Tyler Gray, 18; Josh Woods, 15; and Zach Rounds, 16; traveled abroad with the group. The teens said the idea of the trip was exciting, and they wanted to experience a different culture. When they arrived in Guatemala City, they were surprised to learn many Guatemalans scrape a living by digging through a dump. Though it's a dangerous activity, Zach, Woods and Gray said the people are happy.

"I was really amazed when we saw the dump and I wondered how the people are still smiling after living in that way," Zach said. "It didn't matter how little they had; they make it the best they can."

Rob said the life of an average Guatemalan is very difficult.

"A lot of them are coming from hard situations," he said. "The life expectancy isn't very high there. Often, children simply disappear because they are recruited by gangs or get buried in the dump as crews move around the trash."

The other teens agreed, saying they believe many of the Guatemalan people are in desperate need of hope and something positive to latch on to. For example, when the teens handed out Christian pamphlets, or tracts, and talked about the Gospel, children and adults treasured the items and their words as gifts.

"It was a cool experience," Woods said. "It was interesting how the people hung onto the tracts so tightly. They were wiling to listen to us about everything we had to say."

Zach agreed.

"People here in America, they can take the Christian message or leave it," he said. "People there are eager to hear that message."

In addition to distributing tracts, the youth group teamed with with other ministry groups to provide assistance with building and demolition projects and children's ministry. When interacting with children, they performed faith-based skits in Spanish, visited several churches and took part in other activities including games, face painting and more. Some of them also visited a men-only prison to see a church built by a number of the prisoners.

Aside from missionary work, the group took time to sightsee. They traveled to Lake Atitlan, a body of water within an extinct volcano. Mayan villages and other volcanoes surround the area, and the teens traveled a ridge on horseback to admire the land's scenic views.

"The hospitality was really good and the people were very welcoming," Gray said.

When asked if they enjoyed the trip, the young men nodded.

"One of my favorite parts was being with the kids," Woods said. "As soon as they saw us, they'd run up and hug us. The people there have less, but have bigger hearts for people. I'll remember the love they had for me."

Gray believes the work the group did helped him have a change of heart in some aspects of life.

"I feel I've gotten more calm and collected, and I think I have a better perspective about material things," he added.

Rob believes the Guatemalan experience was beneficial in more ways than one.

"For me, the preparation paid off and it was cool to see the youth get together on this trip with little negativity," he said. "I feel the trip has really made them think and appreciate what they have and shows them what mission work is all about, not just abroad but in the States, too. I think they made that connection."

To check out more information and photos from the Crossroads Community Church group's trip, visit facebook.com/crossroadsguatemala.