Why Work Teams?

Next week we have the privilege of hosting another work team. This one comes from my old Young Life area – I absolutely love reconnecting with leaders and kids and sharing with them my life here in Guatemala. My blog will serve to host pictures and stories – mostly to assure parents that their children are alive and well and actually working. But before that happens, I wanted to share a bit about our philosophy behind work teams.

1. I’ve heard a common complaint about work teams: the money that buys the airplane tickets could go so much further on the ground. While this may be true, relationship and partnership mean something far more than money. Two of our work teams have come every year for the past 5 years. They “gringos” have watched kids grow up. The “chapines” constantly ask how so and so is doing. Letters and emails are exchanged, family photos show up in each others’ houses. People on the US side have become faithful and regular ministry partners because they had the touchpoint on the ground here. From experience I can say that 1 person committed to praying every day for our staff here goes further than that plane ticket money would!

The key, and the hard task, is to develop relationship in a healthy, sustainable way. We do not want to encourage the cycle of poverty by creating dependent relationships. So, we ask the community to chip in, to help out, to be present with the work teams. We ask the gringos to leave their wallets at home, and if they do want to give, to do so through the structure of an organization that is working on the ground. To summarize, we view work teams as an opportunity to foster healthy relationship between two very different places. 

2. We ask our groups to examine what it means to love and serve in a broken world. Rather than walking away patting themselves on the back, most groups walk away saying, “wow, no matter what we

The sea of rust, as one work team member called it.

did, we could never do enough.” Isn’t that the truth? Isn’t that the beauty of the gospel? We can never do enough, but we can follow Christ into the places he is inviting us. Service is much more than doing good things for people in need – it’s about developing an attitude of humility and compassion towards others and figuring out what that means in daily life. Work teams provide an opportunity for our friends in the States to step outside their comfort zones and examine what it means to live a life of service. 

3. By nature of where we’re serving in Guatemala, our work teams spend most of their time in high risk communities. The poverty and violence is overwhelming, and can easily consume a person’s experience. However, we are careful not to bring people on a “poverty tour.” I know that this happens – in a week in Guatemala a group sees all the most dangerous, most despairing places. A group sees poverty and hardship from a distance, moving from location to location. While organizations that do this have their own philosophy, we choose a different road. If we separate humanity from its pain, we can maintain distance, but when we put a name and face with an image we discover compassion. We invite our groups into relationship with people who are living in these hard places. In hearing the stories of our staff, our volunteer leaders, the families we’re serving with, we hope to invite our groups past the shocking images and into relationship with people. Work teams invite people into places and relationships that they might not experience otherwise; they create space where people can experience another way of life.

And that’s just the beginning. To really talk about why we host work teams, I’d have to share story after story of lives that are impacted both in Guate and in the States throughout these experiences. I’ll save that for next week!


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