Mission experience offers help, results in blessings

By Mark and Robin Mizell
Special Contributors

Robin and Mark Mizell

Robin and Mark Mizell

After the St. James mission team returned from Guatemala last year, our pastor said, “You guys should go. You would be great.”

Really? We’re not medical professionals, don’t speak Spanish and were concerned about the time and financial commitment. However, service is important to us, and we’re open to new experiences. So with a leap of faith, we were all in.

Mark: Life with the ‘flexi cookie’

Two weeks before the journey, a team retreat provided time for us to get to know each other and to learn about the trip logistics, dos and don’ts and precautions to take. We also had devotion time and team-building exercises. And we tried flexi cookies.

What’s a flexi cookie? We learned from our team leaders that what looked like ordinary, bite-size Chips Ahoy, Oreos and Nutter Butters actually had extra-strength powers to help international travelers remain flexible when introduced to foreign cultures and amenities. One little cookie lasts weeks. When we caught ourselves getting grumpy or facing challenging circumstances, we’d simply say “flexi cookie” in a calm tone, and a wave of patience would wash over us all.

Our trip began at the Little Rock airport at 4 a.m. and culminated in a four-hour bus ride that took us to a mountain village outside of Guatemala City. The narrow, shoulderless roads proceeded up the steep mountains with countless super-sharp turns. Flexi cookie.

Our driver wasn’t Moses, but he safely delivered us to The Promised Land, our home base for the week, where our gracious Impacto Ministry hosts took great care of us. On a pristine lake, surrounded by beautiful green mountains and majestic volcanoes, it’s a rejuvenating place.

We worked at health clinics set up in mountain villages—likely the only medical and dental care these villagers will have for a year. Many arrived in severe pain, yet they were joyful and patient. More than 700 patients received treatment, including some 500 teeth pulled.

We also had a construction team, which built a 200-square-foot house from cinder blocks and tin roofing. We held a dedication and presented gifts for the family of six, who had previously rented a house that was basically a tool shed. They were jubilant. The crying grandmother tightly hugged me and said Spanish words I didn’t comprehend. But despite the language barrier, I understood what she meant.

As the gravity of our work sank in, I no longer questioned how this family could be excited over such a tiny house. I want to hug the Lord and thank him for giving me so much, because I now understand the joy of serving others. During our work, I had broken out of the paradigm that limited my understanding of the power of being a servant.

God gave my soul a much needed flexi cookie.

Robin: Learning, giving, receiving

A journey to Guatemala wasn’t on my spreadsheets and calendar, but there were things I could help with, and everything worked out.

You’d think I’d learn Matthew 6:19-21 by now and not worry about money, but I was nervous about paying for our travel. After we withdrew from our savings, though, God gave us a surprise bonus, completing our expenses.

I was nervous about collecting hygiene items, suitcases and other supplies. But I soon discovered it created opportunities to talk about the mission, and Mark and I ended up being the biggest collectors on our team. And fundraising for medical supplies? Yikes! But we met that goal, too.

I get motion sickness. Every minute of every bus ride, my stomach was in knots. Thank you, Lord, for looking out for me. I never got sick.

An elderly woman hugged and kissed me after I gave her eyeglasses, a hygiene kit and bread. “Gracias, gracias.” I asked for help to understand her other words: “I don’t know where you came from or how much it cost you to come here on a plane, but you have blessed me.”

Rosarita2

Rosarita, one of the children Robin Mizell met in Guatemala.

I didn’t think I was good at kids’ stuff, but these children were eager to participate in our activities and wanted to have fun. Santo, 7, was the most artistic with his paper-plate baby Moses. Every sheet, color, paint and idea, he wanted to try it. They all wanted to show me their work. I went back to The Promised Land with cross stickers on my shirt and face—mostly from my fast friend, Rosarita.

I learned how easy it was to demonstrate “God is love” and how much we communicate without words. Smiling, touching and clapping are a universal language.

We went to provide outreach to Guatemalans, but God has given us much more through this experience. I can’t express how warming the reactions were when we handed folks glasses, enabling them to read or see from a distance.

These women with back and knee pain carry babies on their backs, wood on their heads and food in their hands—all while wearing old flip-flops. I paused at seeing a woman’s holey shoe. I thought I was frugal, yet at home I choose from shoes in two closets.

On the last night, we were asked how we’re different. “More grateful,” I said.

By saying “Here I am” (our theme from Exodus 3:4), we experienced joy. The mission experience warmed our hearts, lifted our spirits and strengthened our faith.

The Mizells are members of St. James UMC Little Rock.