What is joy? Some might say it’s happiness to the extreme, like opening a Christmas present or getting engaged. I think that definition is wrong. Sure, you can call those scenarios happy occasions, but I wouldn’t qualify them as joy. Here’s joy to me: witnessing God at work. Pure joy is found and attained at the pinnacle of a relationship through Christ, and I saw that joy happen in Belize.
Going to Belize was always a goal for me. My dad and sister both had visited the country twice before on mission trips before I got the chance to go, and I’d had several friends go on the trip as well and come back raving about the fun they’d had and the lives they’d seen changed. Finally I got the chance to go last year and I was scared.
One of my struggles in life has always been anxiety, especially before a trip like this. I’d never been out of the country before, let alone somewhere that hot for that long (one week) before. But the day before the trip I felt this overwhelming peace. No fear, no upset stomach, just peace. God taught me that trip to no longer be afraid of the unknown and to embrace new things as an opportunity for growth and strengthening of my faith. Leading into this years trip, I couldn’t be more excited to get back to the country and share the Gospel.
Here’s where the joy happens. Joy comes in children.
The minute you step off the bus in San Roman, one of the villages, you are instantly surrounded, no, swarmed, by kids. These kids are everything. They hug you, they tackle you, they beatbox with you, they give you stickers and friendship bracelets, they make you laugh, and they make you cry because you just want to never leave them because they’re so happy to have you visit and spend time with them. That is joy. They live in what we would call poverty but they don’t care. They’d rather spend whatever money they have to give you a small present than live in a cushy house with air-conditioning and hi-def TV’s. They listen to every word you say and treasure whatever you do with them. Last year, I befriended two sisters, Viviana and Denalia. I taught them a secret handshake at the end of the trip and told them that when I came back next year, they had to do it with me. I left that year thinking I’d be stunned if they would be able to remember that after a whole year. I ended up stunned. The first thing they asked me when I saw them this year was, “MISTER SCOTT!!! LET’S DO OUR HANDSHAKE!!!” The fact that you can make an impact even as small as a handshake brings you to tears because these kids are so special. They are God’s creation just like us. Having the chance to go and teach them praise songs and Bible stories leaves much more than a small impact on them, it has the power to change their lives. That is joy.
Joy comes in smaller, private moments.
During a prayer walking session the first day of the trip in the village of Silkgrass, my two partners (Shelby Ferguson and Caroline Jones) and I got invited into a high-rise house. Inside, two women sat on a couch doing something I can’t remember and 3-4 kids roamed the floor playing and screaming like kids do. Caroline started sharing the One-Verse Evangelism with one of the women and I sat back and watched. I then noticed another lady in the kitchen stripping chicken meat for a stew. I went in the kitchen to ask her about the stew and that led into another gospel conversation. With God’s words in my mouth, she heard what I had to say and was led to accept Jesus as her Savior. As we left the house I was super excited to tell the girls about what had happened when Shelby turned to me with a smile and said, “We just led that woman to Christ,” to which I replied, “No way same here!” It’s situations like that where God works flawlessly through us, His servants, to further the kingdom. Our prayer group experienced joy in that moment from how God used us to serve and share the Gospel. Moments like that only come when we give ourselves completely to Him and let His words speak through us. The joy came from seeing sinners become sisters in Christ. It’s the most fulfilling experience imaginable.
Joy comes in the unexpected moments
A different day of prayer walking with Madison Hari and Meghan Garrison took us to the village of Red Bank. It was there that I did something I don’t normally do: cry. In another small house, the two girls were speaking with a Catholic woman about her faith and how Jesus had blessed her with salvation, but was struggling to keep her daughter in church while also planning for her departure to a University for school. It was in that moment when we prayed with her “Belize-style,” where everyone prays out loud at once, creating beautiful noise for Christ. After the prayer though, she started thanking us for coming and sharing the Gospel in the village and how encouraging it was to see us sharing our faith with others in the country that needed it. She told us it was nice and thanked us for being bold and doing what she was scared to do herself. That was when I lost it. To hear those words after a devotion the night before from one of my oldest friends (not in age, just in friendship length) Amanda Vickers about the “why” of coming on this mission trip, solidified my faith and calling. Boiling it all down, it brought me to tears hearing thanks and encouragement from another believer about my “why” for going on the trip. To me, Belize was a chance to be bold in my faith, get out of my comfort zone, and share my faith with others that needed it. Hearing that encouragement reaffirmed how God was working in the country of Belize and in my own life. That brought me joy. Enough joy to the point where I cried.
Joy comes in the shared experiences.
When you grow up with a sibling, you fight a lot. You tease each other, you butt heads, and you play ridiculous games that leave you with countless inside jokes. The relationship that forms is a best friendship, and Belize brought out the best in my relationship with my sister Paige. I’ve seen her do great things for God before, but Belize is an amplification of that. She is so calm yet so strong and bold in the way she walked in the village praying with people and sharing the Gospel. She loved on the adults and the kids of the villages and held nothing back when it came to sharing her faith. It’s incredibly precious as the older brother to watch someone that close to me make such a positive impact on so many lives and share those experiences together. Although I didn’t get to prayer walk with her directly, I know that she made an impact because of what other people in her groups would tell me. God shined through her this week and it’s why she has gone four years to Belize. She, like me, has grown to love the people and culture so much that it matters to her to come back and share God’s love with them over and over. Seeing that love brings joy not only to the people of Belize, but everyone in our group myself included.
Other shared experiences were the group interactions we all shared. Whether it was having jam sessions of worship songs in the vans, inside someones home, or at worship service, we all lifted our voices to God and it couldn’t have sounded more beautiful. Joy was experienced be each and every person involved.
Joy doesn’t have to be limited to just Belize. Joy can be found wherever God is present. Belize though will always hold a special place in my heart because of the joy I found there. The children, the prayer walks, the singing, the testimonies, the Bible stories, the evangelism, the meals, everything that happens is all a testimony to the Holy Spirit working through everyone in our group to bond in a common purpose: make the joy of Jesus Christ known to the country of Belize. This trip is one that I won’t ever forget and I hope I’m blessed to go on more in the future. Until the next time, my mission continues to be the same: spreading joy. And I found some of that joy in Belize.