By Cristin Kirbo

We arrived safely to the airport in Guatemala City, where members of CRI happily greeted us and carried us straight into town to a local taco shop. We were offered pork, cheese or tongue tacos.

Oh, boy. Cheese for me, please.

All I could think of was the Thursday morning Bible study I had been enjoying at the church where we were studying Acts, the great acts of the apostles. I had recently learned in Acts 2 speaking in tongues was hearing the gospel in your native language. I had always thought tongues was an unknown language, simply jibberish, but in Acts, God allows everyone to hear the gospel in their own language. How powerful and mighty the Holy Spirit can be when invited into our lives.

Still, just to be safe, I choose the cheese. To be fair, it was the best cheese quesadilla of my life.

The week was well-organized. Not a minute was wasted as we worked in Guatemala. Our bus rides carrying us to and from our base were even spirit-filled as we gained fresh perspective on our fellow church members, hearing bits and pieces of each other’s life stories and testimonies. Advice on children, marriage, faith, and living in Atlanta flowed through the bus.

We helped build eight stoves, four bathrooms, packed more than 1,400 meals and threw a festival for 250 children. It was extraordinary to do so much in so little time, and I was just thankful to be a part of it. I expected to work hard and to give back.

It was what I didn’t expect that caught me off guard.

I didn’t expect that I would be the one who would be helped. What the Guatemalan people taught me was simple, but profound.

We have more than we need or deserve, but we have so little joy. They have less than they need or deserve, but they have so much joy.

The rural community of Santa Maria where we were serving has no running water. They have simple electricity that fuels single lightbulbs. There is no trash service or trash cans. The toilets we installed do not flush with running water. They use water from jugs they lug up the steep hillside to pour into the toilets that flush and drain into holes under their homes.

They offered us all they had. They offered us their simple bathrooms, handmade shirts, expensive coca-colas and help as we worked. I saw the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen in my life from a woman who had no teeth. Complete bliss and joy radiated from her soul.

The most meaningful moment for me was our very last act of building service. We walked up to a newer structure, where we quickly learned from our translator that we were building a stove for a 15-year-old mother and her 1-year-old son. They would be living steps away from her family. The only thing in her one-bedroom home was a wooden bed and blanket. Her father carried the heavy stove materials up the hill alone for his girl. Her siblings and parents gathered around to watch as we worked. At previous houses and job sites, we had prayed over the families and homes while the translator conveyed our prayers to the families.

This time was different.

This time, our translator suggested a Guatemalan prayer, where we would all pray out loud in our own languages over the home. We learned that the first language of this family was Mayan, and the second was Spanish. Other than holding my own children after they were born, it was the most holy moment of my life. We all prayed out loud, focusing on our language as we asked God for protection and blessings over this young mother and her son.

Tongues. We prayed in our language, in our way to our Lord.

And He heard it all the same.