Off to Guatemala

Next week I leave for an 8 day trip to Guatemala. I’ll spend the first 3 days in the tourist town of Antigua where I’ll be exploring, learning about Guatemala’s history, and getting my bearings. Then on Sunday I’ll head to Guatemala City to meet up with a team from Praying Pelican Missions, I’ll be embedded with a short term mission team from the States as they work alongside a local church, building a fruit/veggie stand for the pastor and doing some kids ministry.

My role is pretty simple. I’m going to discover and tell the story. I’ll be shooting photography and video. I’ll be telling stories. And, no doubt, I’ll be sharing on social media along the way.


Risk is what I like about this trip. Not high risk– I’m not worried about getting killed — but when I think about many aspects of this trip I can’t help but acknowledge: Yeah, there’s some risk.

  • PPM has never lead a trip there before. Sending a loud mouth blogger to a location you don’t have experience is a risk. (They have 10+ years experience leading trips in neighboring Belize. So it’s not like they don’t have a clue, but this is a new location for them.)
  • I don’t know the PPM staff. When I go to Haiti it’s a bit of a reunion. I know and love the team there. While I’m positive the team I’ll be with will be great, not having worked together elevates the level of difficulty a little.
  • I’ve never been to Guatemala. I’m flying into a place where I don’t speak the language, know a soul, or have any comfort level with.
  • I don’t understand the culture. I’ve traveled enough in the developing world where I have a good feel for when things are fine and when things aren’t fine. (street smarts) But, in every culture, there are cues I might not understand… Like, a mom says it’s OK to take a picture of that smiling baby… is it really OK or did I misread the mom’s social cue?  It makes me nervous to fly blind.
  • I can’t lay low. Sometimes I’m able to do trips like this and kind of just go along for the ride. But, in order to accomplish the goals of the trip, I need to resist that comfort zone.
  • There’s normal travel risks, too. Traveling anywhere in the developing world is inherently more risky than staying home.

So this trip has an edge to it. And I kind of like that edge. It makes things interesting.


So why take the risk? Because I believe in the importance of short-term missions. Pure and simple.

I believe one of the greatest gifts a youth ministry can offer a teenager is the opportunity to get outside of their culture to serve the local church. If you want to help shape a Christian worldview you simply can’t do that mono-culturally because core to the message of Jesus is that His message is for all people.

But I’m not a fan of every mission trip.

  • It’s vitally important to work hard before, after, and during a trip to help teenagers prepare for and unpack the experience. (see Deep Justice Journeys, What Can We Do?,    When Helping Hurts)
  • As a leader, I believe it’s your responsibility to partner with organizations that responsibly build the local church. You’ve got to check things out… not just the kids who are going, but also the organizations you work with.

So, I’m going on this trip, not just to shoot some pictures and tell some stories, but also to check it out.

Untold Story

As I’ve prepared for this trip I’ve found tons of advice on amazing cultural sites, adventures, and beauty of Guatemala. And don’t get me wrong– these are important things to know when planning a trip.

But what is interesting is the absence of a couple of things just below the surface.

  • Poverty is a very real thing. This is a country where “Eight out of every ten children under age five are undernourished.” (source) According to the World Bank, seventy-five percent of the population lives in poverty. (source) Things like microfinance are a big deal in Guatemala and helping, I’m redistributing some of my Kiva portfolio to reflect that, investing in female entrepreneurs specifically. On top of that, I believe building healthy, long-term partnerships between local churches is a major part of the poverty situation. I’ve seen the impact of these partnerships in Haiti and I’m anxious to start seeing that impact spread.
  • Civil War is recent memory. In the early 1980s, “the army destroyed 626 villages, killed or “disappeared” more than 200,000 people and displaced an additional 1.5 million, while more than 150,000 were driven to seek refuge in Mexico.” (source) History has revealed that the United States played a role in this, our government knew about the atrocities and didn’t do anything… in fact, the CIA continued to fund the military while this was going on. (source) That’s not to say American visitors are unwanted. It just means that it’s complicated.

Putting those two things together in the context of short-term missions makes for interesting storytelling, I think. But I just don’t know how it’s going to play out yet… hence, the risk!

I leave for Guatemala on June 19th. You can follow along with my travels here on the blog, as well as on Instagram and Twitter.







2 responses to “Off to Guatemala”

  1. Gene Avatar

    Add to the list of risks you articulated that neighboring Honduras is actually becoming a dangerous place to be in mission, and how porous some international borders can suddenly become when that type of pressure exists on one side of it and there is no telling what you might run into. Just remember, no matter what happens, “Mejor a Guatemala que a Guatepeor.”

    Praying that your time spent in Guatemala is a blessing for all involved.

  2. Gene Avatar

    I know you leave tomorrow. Don’t forget the line I gave you: “Mejor a Guatemala que a Guatepeor.” Better Guatemala, than a Guatepeor. It is a pun. “Mala” means “bad” and “peor” means “worse.”

    Sometimes you’ll hear the pun made, “Ir a Guatemala a Guatepeor.” (“Ir” being the infinitive form of the verb “to go.”) This means, to go from bad to worse, or “out of the frying pan, into the fire.”

    Here are a couple of other proverbs you might find helpful as well:

    After a nice meal, say, “A barriga llena, corazón contento.” A full belly, a happy heart.

    If things aren’t going according to plan: “Dios aprieta, pero no ahoga.” God squeezes, but does not choke.

    And I have no idea when you would use this, but I just like it: “Cada mono sabe de qué árbol se cuelga.” Every monkey knows from which tree it hangs.

    Hasta luego cocodrilo.

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