A couple weeks ago, my husband and I shared in one of the adult Sunday school classes about our time in Guatemala. Many people in the group have an extensive history of working for MCC, living or studying overseas, or hosting people from other cultures. As a result, the group as a whole has a great appreciation for other cultures. I felt like I could be open with my questions about volunteering, missions, and my pet peeves with our Christian-y assumptions and no one would run from the room screaming Heretic! I didn’t actually say much crazy stuff (I don’t think), but it was nice knowing I could if I wanted.
People asked lots of questions, but only one brought me up short. It was a simple question, one I should have been prepared for because it is so common:
“How are you different now? Are you different now?”
My husband responded with something about how the kids’ worldview has been rocked (in a good way), but we didn’t have much more to say. Because the answer that popped into my head was, “No,” and that just felt plain wrong. Overseas workers are supposed to come back transformed into passionate activists. We’re supposed to be violently recommitted to siding with the underdog. Volunteering at soup kitchens. Lobbying government. Going on peace rally marches. Taking care of stray kittens.
Working with really poor people and not being life-shatteringly changed makes us seem like ungrateful wretches, like failures. A-ha! They are not changed! This is proof they didn’t CONNECT! (Remind me again why we paid all that money to send them?)
The other day I read an article by Michelle Barone in a recent Home Education Magazine. She says, “Our experiences form our beliefs, and our beliefs form our perceptions, and all that together creates our behaviors...”
Going to Guatemala didn’t knock our socks off. We didn’t have wild epiphanies. We didn’t get smitten with conviction. We didn’t get transformed into something entirely different from what we were before. What we did do in Guatemala was grow.
My husband and I have more confidence in our ability to be ourselves (I traveled with four children and one crotchety husband through airport security and in speeding buses and ratty taxis so now I am an adult, or something like that). We have more questions and fewer answers. The children were loved on by people they couldn't understand, learned to speak some Spanish, and now know firsthand that the world is huge and they are not the center of it.
Of course we'll be shaped by our time there. We’re not rocks, after all. But we're shaped by all our experiences, all the time. Some, like Guatemala and homeschooling and family size, we have the privilege to choose. Others, like living two weeks out of four with PMS or having ADHD, just get handed to us and we have to learn to deal.
We went to Guatemala to do a job and now we have a few more experiences rattling around in our heads, jiggling their way into the crevices of our beings.
And that, I think, is my answer.