Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"How are you different now?"

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.


  1. Sounds like a good and honest answer. I think when we allow ourselves to be shaped by our experiences and challenges, the change may be more subtle, but it's lasting, as opposed to getting all fired up and fizzling out. But, maybe that's just the way my brain works.

  2. More questions and fewer just summed up growing older and wiser.

  3. I'm a long time reader, sometime commenter (I named the wig Tina :)). First of all I must say that you are the only Mennonite I "know". (that sounds just so weird, anyway.....) And, I didn't pay a dime to send you to Guatemala (though I do currently, and have in the past, support missionaries from my church), I'm not at all concerned that YOU (or them as my case actually is) are changed when you return---though I know you are. I just know that you did what you were sent there to do--show and give love to complete strangers--live among them, serve them, teach them. It's simply not about US at all! Thanks for going and showing!

  4. I think is is also true that our beliefs shape our experiences; thus why you went in the first place...and you will return to keep on keeping on and doing and growing and changing.

  5. So much pressure to go and do what you did... It also seems to me that you came home with a greater appreciation of all that we DO have here...we have a lot of luxuries that we take for granted. I, for one, marveled at your attitude and your candor during your time you adjusted in less than ideal circumstances. Were you suffering? No. (Although maybe it felt like it at times.) But you had to deal with things you don't have to deal with here at home...not to mention having to persevere with the people you worked with, doing your best to encourage them to rise to the occasion...and that didn't sound like an easy task. I don't think every experience has to be monumental. And really, if you made a difference to one person, who will make a difference to 4 people, who will make a difference to 10 people...then I'd say it was a success.