In my early twenties, I had the great opportunity of serving a year and a half welfare mission among the K’ekchi. The K’ekchi are a Mayan tribe who live in north-central Guatemala. I was assigned a companion to go with me. She was a beautiful American woman,the same age as me. She was tall with fair skin, freckles, long wavy red hair and startling green eyes. Because of potential illnesses and political conflicts, there had not been female missionaries in the area in a long time. We were the first ones to return. So with this privilege, we felt a great responsibility, for which we were nervous and excited at the same time. During this journey, I was challenged, but I was also blessed. I was blessed to experience, what I felt, was the purest form of love.
Besides teaching families the essentials of reading and writing, my companion and I spent many hours instructing people on the basics of good hygiene and nutritional habits. We also delivered medicine, and taught scripture. To do that, we were constantly hiking and traveling through the 100 plus miles of mountains and villages along the Polochic River.
The mountains in the area were impressively tall, with 50 degree slopes that were covered in rain forest and jungle vegetation like I’d only seen in movies…think 1984’s Romancing the Stone. The villages were spread through those mountains. Some of them were within walking distance from towns and main roads. Others were almost impossible to reach, even by horseback. It was in this gorgeous, but taxing setting, that I learned their beautiful Mayan language. I also learned to live without electricity and all other modern conveniences.
My companion and I were stationed for part of our mission in the beautiful community of Senahu, in Northern Polochic. Senahu is the name of the town, but also the name of a collection of 41 small villages surrounding it. The main plaza is located at the center of the town, with the municipal buildings, the main market and the Catholic church building surrounding the plaza. The town had no electricity except from 6pm to 8pm, when a small generator got turned on. The generator was able to provide energy to the center of the town and light that wasn’t much stronger than a candle, but good enough to help us get ready for the night. We rented a room in one of the best homes in town and we also paid for the cooking and laundry. A little K’ekchi boy, Puk, would fill a bucket of water for us in a tiny room where we “showered”. Taking a shower was not one of my favorite things to do, since I generally had to share this room with a few tarantulas.
One day, my companion and I decided to venture to a part of the mountains where we had never been before. This area seemed uninhabited to us and we had always ignored it, but this morning we decided to hike up hill and look for families anyway.
After hiking for many hours and not finding any homes or families, the temperature and humidity were sapping our strength, and it was getting late. The rules for all missionaries was to never be out of the main city or village after 5 PM. It was too dangerous to be out in the dark. There are too many wild animals and the K’ekchi are very protective of their territory. We didn’t want to break any rules or to get into any trouble, so we decided to head back to town. At that point, we realized that we had been wandering around, without paying attention to where we’d been. We had lost track of the way back. We could see the town from the top of the hill, but we were not able to find the trail that we needed to take to get back to it.
My companion and I were getting worried and frustrated. We were very hot, getting hungry and needed water. We didn’t know what to do. Then, we heard giggles coming from the trees and as we looked harder into the area where the giggles were coming from, we realized that there was a little hut inside a group of trees and the family that lived in that hut had been observing us. They thought it was so funny that we were lost.
The hut was a small, clean, 10’ x 10’ structure made out of sticks and tree branches, dirt floors and a fire-pit in the middle. It was hidden so well that it looked like it was just a big tree. The family included the mom and dad , two daughters and a son. The children who were about 11, 12 and 13 years old, seemed to be much smaller, more like 7-8 years-old. The parents were not that much taller. They all all had big black eyes, the biggest smiles and cute giggles. They all were happy and seemed to have no worries at all.
They welcomed us with so much love and attention. The two little girls, after inspecting us with their eyes, playing with our hair, holding our hands, and touching our clothes and all the ornaments we were wearing, ran out of the hut. They had been instructed by the mom to go pick the tips of some tender plants that were growing right outside of the hut. The mom placed the trimmings inside a pot of water and placed it on top of the fire. She also started to make corn tortillas. A few minutes later they handed us a bowl that contained broth and the tortillas for us to eat. Of course, we were grateful for the meal, but as welfare missionaries, we were analyzing the nutritional value of that meal and the impact of that type of diet on their health. After visiting with the family, they showed us the trail that would lead us back to the village and we said goodbye. The trail entrance at that point seemed so obvious. It was hard to believe that we couldn’t find it earlier. Like it had been hidden purposely, so that we could meet that family.
As a way to thank the family and to help them improve their nourishment, my companion and I decided to buy a couple of chicks and some chicken feed. We hiked a few days later to deliver our gift. It was very touching to see how happy, excited and grateful they were to have something that they’d never had before. I was humbled, realizing that there are people who had never eaten an egg. Up to this point in my life I had thought nothing of waking up every morning in my own comfy bed, with a soft mattress, warm blankets, with a bedroom to myself that even included my own bathroom. I thought that a warm, steamy and delicious breakfast of eggs, beans, bread, cheese, coffee, cream, sugar, fruit was the norm and my right. I had always taken those simple blessings for granted. Many times, I had complained because something was not cooked exactly the way I liked it. How different it was for this family. They had little, and yet they were absolutely happy.
We kept on visiting and checking on them through the following months. As time went by, we got other assignments, other villages to visit and we didn’t see the family for a while. With time, they went out of our mind and I’d forgotten all about the gift of the baby chicks…until one morning.
As we were leaving our home to go do our service projects for that day, we noticed that the family was waiting for us outside. The moment they saw us coming out of our house, their smiles became so big, their big black eyes sparkling with excitement, joy and happiness. One of the little girls had a piece of cloth in her hands. It seemed like she was guarding a treasure. The little girl came towards me and placed the little packet in my hands. I carefully unfolded the corners of the cloth…an egg!
As they explained to us, one of the chickens had lain her first egg early that morning, and they wanted us to have it. They had walked since dawn, waited outside our home to show us their treasure and more special … to give it to us!!!
It was just an egg, but it was the first egg they’d ever “owned.” Instead of eating it themselves, they gave it to us. They had big smiles on their faces. They had a light and a glow that showed pride in their precious offering. They were giving away something so precious, and all I saw was gratitude radiating from this beautiful family towards us.
They eagerly watched for our reaction. I can’t tell you what my companion was feeling or thinking. I can only tell you what I felt.
I felt a love so powerful radiating towards me, that no words can describe it. There was a sense of humility, a deep love and so much gratitude. With the simple gift of an egg, I experienced a moment in my life that awakened me. That wonderful family gave me much more than an egg. They gave me a deep sense of what the truly valuable gifts are in this world..the feeling of being valued, cared for and loved.
Photos by Sandi Gamblin
Edited by Randall Gamblin (email@example.com)