Varieties of Gifts

Today we bucked our trend and all went to work at the same place. Well, almost all – one was feeling a little sick and stayed at the hotel to recover. But the rest of us went en masse to the school, where a variety of jobs awaited.

It can sometimes be a little tricky to make sure our visits to Copan do not become a kind of “voluntourism.” That’s when people go to faraway places because they want to help, but they’re not very clear on what to do to really help, so they end up being a kind of burden on the local folks who have to come up with something for their well meaning visitors to do. It often happens when we come here that we do jobs the local folks could do better and quicker than we can. But it is still important that we do them, because the locals have jobs of their own and can’t always do the work we do, or because we bring money for supplies with us so the work can only proceed when we’re here (and just after, until the money runs out), or we bring certain skills that can complement and help the skills they have. Still, it often happens that we are walking a fine line between real work and make-work.

Yet even on that fine line, there can be value in just being here to pitch in with the jobs at hand. That was a recurring theme throughout this day at the school.

In the morning, several of us went out with the primary students to pick up trash. Today was declared a national cleanup day by the Honduran government, and schoolchildren all over the country were released from classes to go out together into their communities and pick up bottle caps, snack wrappers, plastic pieces – anything that might collect enough water for the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus to breed. It was all about the national health. So we went along to pick up what we could.

Now those little children did not need a bunch of aging gringos who didn’t know their language to go out and pick up chip bags and cigarette wrappers with them. We really didn’t bring anything to their effort. But we smiled a lot, and they smiled back, and we asked the words for a few things, and they laughed when we couldn’t pronounce them quite right, and we stopped at the play field and clapped when a little girl went hand-over-hand all the way down the frame of the soccer goal, and when a little boy fell off a wall and took a bad bump, Lee sat down beside him and let him lean on her. And by the time we walked back, everyone had a child out two holding their hand, or walking arm in arm, as if we had been friends forever. We didn’t need to be there; we didn’t bring much to the job; but because we were there, there was a little more love and joy in the world than there would have been otherwise.

And a lot of the day was like that. At various times of the day, various members of our group swept classrooms and washed stray paint from the floors, put classroom furniture back where it belonged after having been moved for painting, hauled rocks and cement blocks for a wall to be built, cut wire and bent it into rings to make rebar towers for said wall, taught English in classes, measured heights for the courses of blocks in the wall, and created a Gmail address and Facebook page for the school. (That last was my contribution. Facebook will help us keep up with doings at the school. And it’s not just for mission trippers: anyone who’s interested can log on and see them. Try it now at this link. Like the page so you can return to it easily and watch how it grows!)

Technically speaking, the school didn’t need any of us there to do those things. Teachers and aides and students pitched in to work them all – you should have seen some of those secondary school boys carrying those blocks! – and they didn’t much need our help. But our presence there helped get a few balls rolling, and we brought a few skills they didn’t have as readily, and we helped with supplies they couldn’t have gotten on their own. We may have been on the fine line, but the little things we did and the little bits we contributed were part of some good work done in the school and the community.

That’s how things are in the Body of Christ. We are not all the same, we can’t all do the same things, and some of us might not seem as important or as necessary as others. But we work together, many activities activated by the same Spirit, and together we make some remarkable things happen. Or, more accurately, together God makes happen some remarkable things through us. That’s what I saw in the variety-in-unity of our work at the school today.