Manuelito laughed and called me “George” yet again, knowing perfectly well that my name was not George. But it made him laugh, and it made me laugh, so I never gave him any trouble about it. General rule of thumb: When an eight-year-old child from Guatemala who has been removed from his home to live at a nutrition care center does anything that causes laughter, you don’t give him any trouble. You just laugh. So that’s what I did. I laughed, and he laughed, and he never stopped calling me George for the rest of my time at the center.
In two weeks, I would be starting my first year at Baylor University, and already I felt indescribably fortunate to be joining the Baylor community. As a member of the first ever Missions Line Camp, I had spent several days watching other incoming freshman like myself wake up early, early, early for the hour-long drive to the nutrition center, had watched them step boldly out of their comfort zones and jump unflinchingly over the language barrier that stood between themselves and the gift of service. I had watched them get their hands dirty (literally, with dirt) while planting a sustainable garden, while helping the toddlers with bath time, while changing diapers in the infant care room. I had watched this group of people my own age transform into grown-ups in a matter of seconds, grown-ups capable of doing very much good with very little sleep, capable of being selfless and pragmatic and completely aware. So I thought to myself, as I stood back and watched this group of soon-to-be Baylor students chase some forty or fifty Guatemalan children to and fro throughout the playground, unapologetic laughter filling every cubic inch of air; I thought to myself, “It’s beautiful. There is no other word for this.”
This was at a time when racial tensions, socioeconomic tensions, political tensions in general, were running high. Three of the top ten U.S. news stories from that week in time included the word “shooting” in the title. Three others included “targeted, deadly, troops.” It seemed that the world was falling apart as I moved away from home and began preparing for college. And yet, here, with these people, the most broken parts of the world were being put back together. At the risk of sounding overly emotional, I have tears in my eyes at this very moment just thinking about it. What a wonderful thing to see so many young people, the likes of whom I would be surrounded by for the next four years, just exude compassion. It was like some sort of visible perfume, like an aura or a light, coming off of each and every one of them. It was a love of humanity, and it extended in all directions without hesitation or doubt or prejudice.
Fast forward almost three-and-a-half years, and I’m here typing this blog post. I’ve just sent an email to a professor of mine about a mission trip to Belize in May. It’ll be my sixth and final Baylor mission trip. SIXTH! I would write a disclaimer about my being biased when it comes to the greatness of Baylor Missions, but I hardly think a bias formed from great experiences requires a disclaimer. Why, it’s not a bias at all! I think Baylor Missions are incredible because they have, in fact, been incredible. Guatemala, Honduras, the border, Guatemala again, the border again, Belize in a few months. Clearly, I can’t get enough, and I think that’s the thing about Baylor Missions. You keep going. My eyes have been opened so wide and so often, it’s a wonder I even get them to close at night. If I took the time to write about all that I have learned through missions, no one would ever read it all. Because you can’t fit it all on paper. You can’t put it all into words. There are some things you just have to go and do.
So here’s another general rule of thumb for you: If you get the chance to go on a Baylor mission trip, GO! DO! See and learn and give and receive. The you that leaves will never come back. A different, more experienced, more understanding you will make the journey home. And maybe you’ve already been on a mission trip. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking that you didn’t have that experience at all. If so, I challenge you to try it again. Somewhere out there is another Manuelito, a child who has at some point been fed so little that they became almost fatally sick. He’s out there waiting for someone just like you to be his friend and put up with his mischief. So go and let all of your walls down. Hold out your arms, and bare yourself to the world. Ask to be stretched and pulled in all the right places.
And if an eight-year-old boy calls you George for the ten hundredth time, even if that’s not your name, don’t give him any trouble. Just laugh.
Garrett Burton is a senior Medical Humanities major and a member of the Baylor Missions Leadership Council.