Faith on the move
Dayton woman leads mission trip to Guatemala
Amber Graves let her faith guide her to a foreign country — a test that turned into a life-changing adventure.
Graves, who lives in Dayton, led a group of 10 students with fellow chaperone Christine VanderWal — a volunteer at Hidden Acres Christian Center in Dayton — to Guatemala.
The surroundings may have been different, but the people were the same at their core.
“It makes you realize that people are people. They like a smile and a hug no matter what,” Graves said. “The people there were very welcoming and friendly. They would hug you right away, and you would be instant friends.
“It was inspiring how fast we built relationships.”
Graves wanted to take her kids on a mission trip, and after some research and discussions with her friends, the plan began to take shape.
Through GoServ Global — an organization that provides disaster relief and mission trips — Graves saw her opportunity. GoServ Global, which is based in Eagle Grove, has ministries in five different countries and builds grain-bin houses in Guatemala, Uganda, Peru, Haiti and India.
Hidden Acres, where Graves volunteers, supports the missionaries of GoServ Global with one of the grain-bin houses built on camp.
“I am so grateful to all of the people from our community who supported us, both financially and with prayer,” Graves said. “GoServ Global also does disaster relief in the United States. It’s an amazing organization to work with and serve alongside.”
Graves, her daughter Emma and twin boys Zach and JJ boarded a plane with members from six different churches, bound for a foreign land and new experience.
Once they arrived in Guatemala City, the lifestyle difference was evident almost immediately.
“The driving is crazy,” Graves said. “You would see a whole family on motorcycles — even young kids on motorcycles. They don’t have plumbing or landfills like we do. You can’t flush toilet paper, and they would just pile up their trash and then burn it.
“You can’t drink the water. We would drink from bags of water.”
The area the group visited had a brand new church. The sanctuary was in the middle and the classrooms lined the outside on two different levels.
Graves’ group visited a farm, where they learned how the Guatemalans sustained food. Everything they ate, they grew by hand. They grew sugar cane and plantains.
“Their church was brand new, but it wasn’t up to American standards,” said Graves, a nurse at Iowa Central Community College. “It would be half finished up to our codes, but they were thrilled to just have it. The kids had an area at recess where they played soccer, and they had a blast. They weren’t complaining, just playing.”
Graves and her group helped in the classroom and endured the heat while working on the church.
“We helped out in the school every day. We were assigned to a classroom and helped the teachers,” Graves said. “We helped them learn English words and all about classroom management. We sang songs and did whatever the teacher needed us to do.
“In the afternoon, we painted the school and the church. It was so hot — anywhere from the 90s to 100s.”
It wasn’t all work and manual labor, as the group was able to help out the local economy and share the word of their mission.
“They wanted us to stay in the motel, because it really helped out their economy,” Graves said. “The money spent on the hotels was able to be put back into the community. In the evenings we had air in our rooms, and we were able to cool off at night in the swimming pool.
“We got together at the church and that was neat. We sang with them. It was very lively and instrumental. They would sing in Spanish. Our mission also gave a message through an interpreter.”
Graves and her family learned a lot about themselves, finding a new perspective in their own lives.
“This was out of my comfort zone to organize a trip like this, but once we made it, I had tears in my eyes,” Graves said. “I was happy how the kids jumped right in and embraced the culture. It was great knowing that it happened and that we got to do it together. It was a great group of kids; they got along so well and helped others in a place that is not as fortunate as us. Yet nobody complained, and they were thrilled to be there.
“I hope that my kids realize how good we have it in the United States and how much we take it for granted. They can still be extremely happy, even if they don’t have a lot of stuff.”
Graves will always remember the trip and its intangible rewards, which came through sacrifice and selflessness.
“It blew me away,” Graves said. “It was a complete test of faith. Would we have enough money to get there? Would we have enough time? Could we get everyone on the plane?
“It just showed me that if you have faith and God asks you, He will bless you in your faith.”