A few years ago I took a very small group of teens and chaperones (nearly equal numbers) on a service trip to Guatemala City with International Samaritan.
Let me set the scene. Picture the worst poverty you have ever seen first hand. Got it? Toss that mental image out the window because it probably doesn't hold a candle to the poverty of the individuals who live in the city garbage dump community. Think Slumdog Millionaire and you're closer to this reality.
I was rather squished into my seat on the flight down between some rather large gentlemen. Think defensive line for NFL...got it? Okay, that's where I was. These were guys who were former military were going down there to train with the police or Guatemalan military. We struck up a conversation and they were impressed I was crazy enough to be doing this. I didn't blink.
Then we get to the zone (that's what the areas of the city are called zones - there are two that are the garbage dump community). And my breath was taken away from me. First you are hit with the physical force of the stench of the dump. Then you are assaulted by the shacks assembled from scavenged material, sewage, dust, and devastation. Once you survive all that, you encounter the worst volley - the poverty of soul and hope in the people staring through their huts.
That is what the single greatest part of the service trip is. Recognizing that the little we do over the week or 10 days is inconsequential. What is so very crucial is the sense of hope and validation we brought to those people. They are forsaken by their countrymen who hold to a class system. We, the strange Americans, noticed them, they were heard, and they were cared for. It was not our wealth or our citizenship. It was not our clothes or our technology. It was our ears and hearts that they wanted.
They wanted their stories told. They wanted hope for their children. They wanted their voices to be heard.