I did it!
I remember the adrenaline burning through my veins four years ago. I had made it through missions training. I had asked and received 100% support from different churches and families. I had bought my one-way ticket, stuffed my two suitcases to 48 and 49 pounds exactly and had said goodbye to my friends and family. Then I flew by myself to a different country and all the pumping adrenaline froze into confusion and doubt.
So now what?
Even though I had already been to Guatemala several times before and could stumble through the language, my first official days on the mission field were filled with questions.
1. How do I get there?
No. Literally. How?
Do I need to walk? Is there a bus? Two buses? Do I take a taxi? Tuk tuk? Uber? Drive? Combine any of the above options?
Navigating in a foreign country is no easy feat. Just going to the local market and getting out without becoming hopelessly lost is enough for me to buy a cold coke in celebration. Asking for directions, from just anybody, can be a mistake as they point in any given direction and shrug. Praise the Lord for Google Maps and Waze.
2. How much did you say?
50 quetzales for a hamburger. 10 for a tuk tuk. Am I paying too much or too little? Are they trying to rip off a foreigner or is it a good price? Am I allowed to haggle here or no?
Prices can change drastically. From the main city to the cliché tourist town to the little village in the mountains, everyone has a different idea of what is expensive and what is affordable. It took me a long time of being quiet and listening to my local friends to learn the prices when they asked versus when I asked with my dead giveaway accent. Even now I still ask a trusted friend what the price should be for something before going out and buying.
3. What did you say?
Nuances. Idioms. Figures of speech. Deciphering the garbled speech at a drive through or reacting to rushed words spoken in a panic.
My language training could not cover every meaning of every word. What does it mean when they call me a battery? When they refer to me as a type of deli meat? What does it mean when someone is ready for the tiger? When they say I had stuck out my paw? And that was just Spanish. I live in an indigenous community where the native dialect is mixed in their everyday speech. How do I begin to conquer another language when the first still gives me headaches? The answer: patience and patient friends.
4. What food is that?
Not to be rude. It’s delicious. But… what is it?
So many different flavors. A variety of new fruits and vegetables with no translation. What is it? How do you eat it? Do you peel it first? Eat all of it? Eat part? With your hands? With a spoon?
I felt like I was a child again. Asking so many questions. No, I didn’t know that you ate chicken with your hands. I didn’t realize that beef was a luxury. How many tortillas does an average person have with each meal? What spice is that? Oregano? Wow, I’d only seen it in labeled jars. But even in the midst of confusion, the amazing flavors that passed my tongue often brought my questions to a halt as I savored each bite.
5. What do I do?
Okay. I’m here. So now what?
Do I focus on my job at the public school or on my ministries in the local church? Do I start studying the local dialect or start a Bible study? Do I dive into new opportunities or hang back a bit and observe? Do I give my point of view every time the locals look to me for an opinion? My pastors back home couldn’t give me the answers. The local leaders couldn’t give me the answers. Even other missionaries couldn’t give me the answers. I was on my own to act and receive grace from those around me as I let God guide my steps.
6. How do I do it?
Sure, I knew what I needed to do. How to accomplish it was a completely different mountain.
Help! My first year as a teacher is spent in a foreign school system. What do I do? How do I help the ministries in the local church without overpowering them with my foreign hero-complex? How do I balance learning to survive a new culture and making friends at the same time? How do I invest here and keep connections with those back home? How can I do it all and avoid burn out?
And the most important question: how can I do it all and keep Christ the priority? My daily devotions were filled with lots of questions and pleading with God all while searching for answers in his Word. And He would answer.
7. Is this worth it all?
I had sacrificed life as a normal college student to prepare to go to missions. I had forfeited ‘success’ and an ‘easy life’. I had said goodbye to my friends and family. Given up air conditioning. Central heating. Wifi. Anonymity. Now, just a week on the mission field, the burning question seeped into my thoughts. Will it be worth it?
But as I made friends who loved me despite my bungling attempts at speech, as I got to know my students and fell in love with each one. As the members of the church accepted me as a flawed human like them. And as God gave me a heart for this country despite its traffic issues and strange social norms, the answer I found was a resounding YES.
Natalie Arauco serves in a small, mountainous village of Guatemala. She teaches English every day at the village school all while sharing the love of Jesus with her 12-17 year old students. Natalie also works alongside the local church with their community outreach and discipleship ministries. Natalie writes about culture, missions, and her adventures in her blog: Natalie in Guatemala.