THIS PAST FRIDAY I returned home from my third journey to a country in Central America that is capturing my heart. The weather always seems to be perfect, the scenic landscape is striking and the coffee is unmatched. However, it is the people that I have met along the way that continue to impress me and inspire me to keep coming back.
On this most recent trip to Guatemala, there was a continual thought that kept coming to mind everywhere we worked and visited. That thought was this - I am starting to feel like family here, and here is starting to feel like family. And it was this strong sense of becoming family with my brothers and sisters in Guatemala that led me to learn more this year and then really try my best to serve those around me with the specific skills and gifts that God has given me to offer. I was reminded that...
We are all stewards of our skill-sets.
Our gifts and skill-sets are the sacrifices we bring before God when we use them to serve others instead of just using them for ourselves.
I am a professional baseball player. The men who served with me are professional baseball players. God has made us such. Therefore, like we do on every UPI trip, we sought to use this platform and skill-set for the purpose of serving those around us. Doing this is like taking our gift from God and then offering it back to Him as a sacrifice upon His altar. There are definitely other ways to serve and many great causes that we can contribute to and should contribute to, but I have come to believe that there is something special and unique about using the very specific gift that God has given you to serve God and give back to others. This helps us remember that everything we have is on loan from God.
Our career is not our career.
We are stewards of the career that God has granted us.
Therefore, we are to use it for God's purposes, God's plan and for God's glory.
On this year's trip, we were able to provide nine free baseball clinics for kids of all ages, and many of these kids were the same kids that we have worked with on our first two trips. It's fun to watch these kids progress in their abilities and grow up as boys who are on their way to becoming men. It was exhausting service (especially my 12,000 pitch pitch-count), but it was a type of pouring ourselves out that filled us up with satisfying joy.
We definitely received more than we gave.
We owe a great deal of thanks to the Federacion De Beisbol Guatemala and the Gálvez and Javier Little Leagues for giving us the opportunity to serve so many families through the game of baseball. I am also very thankful for Luis and Chista Aquino who have graciously supported us from day one in more ways than I can even mention. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet my fellow professional baseball alumni, Luis Figueroa, who shared and demonstrated his passion for serving the youth of Guatemala and impacting their lives through the game. And I am grateful for having another fellow professional player, Manny Hernandez - the "2015 Guatemalan Home Run King" - helping us at the clinics and for his commitment to offer his skill-set to serve his fellow countrymen. I also owe a great deal of thanks to those not named (you know who you are) for the help and the incredible hospitality that has increasingly made Guatemala a home away from home.
After nine clinics in five days and after I gave up a grand total of 70 earned runs in two simulated games, we took a break from baseball and spent the last two days visiting two other ministries that are doing incredible work for God's Kingdom by serving Guatemala's kids. First, we got away for a refreshing retreat at The Opal House. The view from the back porch is always breathtaking, but the breaking of bread at the table is always authentic and life-giving. Thank you Will and Diane for opening up your home to men who eat like horses but for also being the much needed nourishment for our hungry souls. The time around your table has become a deeply treasured time to me personally, and your faithfulness and willingness to embrace tremendous vulnerability has challenged me to stop playing life safe.
From Will and Diane's, we set out to visit the Oasis Children's Home to play some soccer and softball with some of the strongest daughters of God that I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Corbey Dukes has been so generous to open up his doors so that we might be blessed by our little sisters in Christ. I am so impressed and inspired by the work of Oasis that I am compelled to share their story with others. The words rescue, justice, redemption, reconciliation and restoration come to mind which confirm that Corbey's team is doing the Lord's work in the difficult field that God has placed them in. After spending six days with the boys, these last few hours of our week with these wonderful girls is the icing on the cake. The trip to Guatemala would be incomplete without being blessed by a visit to Oasis.
So it was a great trip with great opportunities to serve great people in a great country, but the one thing that always enhances the overall experience is the team that you hang with and serve with all week. Joel, Marilyn, Joeito and Sofia have gone above and beyond in making us feel like members of their own family. The sacrifice, hospitality and support this family has shown us cannot be articulated in words; it can only be felt and experienced in person. When you're putting in long days of baseball clinics, it makes all the difference in the world to wake up with a warm cup of freshly prepared coffee and a warm breakfast and then to come home each day to great home-cooked meals, conversations of laughter around the table, warm showers, warm beds and some free wifi on the back patio. Their home feels like home, and their family feels like family.
And then lastly, I can't put into words the benefit of being able to serve with the same men for multiple years on this specific trip. This was Matt Taylor's third trip to Guatemala with me, Todd Cunningham's second trip and Sal Giardina's first trip. Team chemistry can make or break a trip and this particular team definitely made this trip a special experience. Matt's 2nd grade Spanish combined with Todd's love for avocado farming and then mixed with Sal's Italian eating habits creates an interesting week with a lot of laughs and memorable moments.
I hope to serve with these same men for many more years to come as they hopefully add to our number in their own efforts to make disciples of Jesus. It has been a joy to serve with these men and to watch them serve the people of Guatemala with so much love and passion. They poured themselves out using their baseball skills to serve the kids, but I am also confident that most of the people we encountered could clearly see that there was something different and distinct about these men. We shared our stories, and we shared God's story, and at the end of the day, I am hopeful and prayerful that our God was pleased with our efforts.
As followers of Jesus, we journeyed to Guatemala to serve the people there because of the way Jesus - the Son of God - came into this world to serve all of us. He lived the kind of life that we were made to live, He died to make us right with God, He was buried for three days, but then God raised Him from the dead. One day He will return to make all things right, and so until He returns, we continue to try to live like He lived and obey what He taught. And one special way that we have tried to serve Him is to by using our platforms and skill-sets to serve others.
It is safe to say that we have fallen in love with Guatemala because God has first loved us. And so until He leads us otherwise, I look forward to every Autumn in the Land of Eternal Spring.