I just returned on Sunday evening from a 10-day trip to Guatemala. The purpose was to provide humanitarian aid to the people in the smallish village of Comalapa. Our most obvious service came from the four dentists in tow. They numbed gums then extracted and collected over 700 teeth in 5 days. That’s note-worthy, n’est-pas? The women and children of Comalapa have a lot less toothache after our visit. Bravo to our brave, dedicated, American-trained, licensed dentists-Rob, Shane, JD, and Collins…and all of their trusty and efficient assistants-too numerous to name, but so important nonetheless. I got to dental-assist (no license required) for a couple of hours. It was interesting and satisfying-but I do wish that we could have intercepted them 15 years ago and talked to them about brushing and flossing and easy daily maintenance that would have allowed them to keep their teeth beyond 25 years of age. And I do wish that we could have been followed by a denture clinic for all of the toothless grins that we encountered. But, I am grateful for the pain that was relieved and there was gratitude galore for all of the free services offered.
I was up at our other project-a Senior Center in much need of everything from food, to hot water heaters to love and attention. On the temporal side we gave what we could in five days…a new brick wall,a new tile floor, a new mural in the dining area, freshly painted walls. We scrubbed the kitchen shelf and the fridge and freezer. We swept and disinfected tables. We served two lunches and provided food supplies, toothbrushes and clothing. These are things that could linger as temporal gifts after we left on Friday. But even after all of this, Maslov would have been running ragged at this forgotten little Senior Center in a small corner of a small country. Clearly, painting and tiling and scrubbing would not be enough. The residents, the people, the individuals NEEDED love, attention, touch, conversation, kindness. This is where my Christianity was put to the test-and I don’t speak Spanish. How I longed to know each story. How I wished to speak soothing words in their own language. How I wished to share my beliefs and my hope for them. I connect by talking, by conversation, by opening up verbally-I felt desperate about this conundrum even before I left America. I thank the Lord for the Spirit which showed me clearly how to give to them despite the barriers.
On Day 3 one of our group who loves to cook made an amazing “Utah” meal for the residents: ham, funeral potatoes, jello, and chocolate chip cookies. They ate it up-firsts, seconds, and thirds. Then our youth performed some songs from a recent musical that they all participated in. They finished with the simple song, “I Am A Child of God” and as the residents sat there basking in the happiness of a full stomach and good entertainment, the Spirit reminded me that I had pictures of the Savior to share. So I snagged them out of my backpack and gave one to each resident with a hug and a smile.
They were so pleased to receive the gift. As I touched each one, the Spirit gave me another gentle push-“I bet they haven’t had a shoulder rub in years…touch them, give them a few minutes of personal relief.” This was not easy for me.
Most of them sat in soiled clothing. Their bones have worn through their skin. They hadn’t been shaved or washed in quite a while. But I knew that they needed to be touched one by one just as our Savior administered to the Jews and the Nephites. I rallied a few of our youth and they helped for a few minutes but this was a task meant for me. It was my inspiration and I needed to see it through. The residents sat there and patiently awaited their turn. I felt unconditional love flow between us as I offered this very, very small service to each one. When I got done, I had turned a corner. Language barriers aside, they knew that I loved them. And I felt that they loved me. My prayers to minister to them had been answered ten-fold. What a blessing to be in Comalapa at that moment.
While I am not the Savior and I can’t cast out demons or sickness; I did experience perfect love and we have been promised that perfect love can cast out fear. It certainly cast out all of mine as I laid my hands on each amigo and amiga. I no longer felt fearful of touching them, hugging them, giving of myself to them.
And when I left on Friday with a farewell kiss and hug from each one, I knew that they too had set aside some fear. Love is powerful stuff.