A couple weeks ago, Stephanie and I returned from a week-long trip with a medical brigade that served at the clinic in Gracias, Honduras, which is the town we’ll be moving to in July. I’ve been convicted of struggling with pride recently… to be clear, the pride isn’t new, but the conviction is. God would use this opportunity to humble me, even as I was only just beginning to realize my pride. For some reason, he didn’t feel the need to hold back as he constantly reminded me of how feeble, fragile, and in-over-my-head I am. I’m just saying, a gentle reminder probably would have done the trick, but I guess that wasn’t in the cards. I’m certain that he wanted to make it clear to me that the Joyce family doesn’t have work to do in Gracias. Rather, God has work to do that he wants us to see, and be a part of, and share.
Here we are watching a surgery… Stephanie, comfortable, and me, terrified.
I guess I didn’t know exactly what to expect going in, but I was completely blown away by the medical operation there. They took a team of medical experts needed to perform the surgeries for the week. These were desperately needed surgeries that would have happened years ago if these patients had been born in Michigan. As we walked up to the clinic the first day, laughing and talking, I noticed a crowd of patients, each waiting to be screened and hoping they would be one of the ones selected for surgery that week. I quickly lost that sense of joviality as the gravity of the situation sunk in. Here were people that had driven past other big cities, past other hospitals, enduring long and uncomfortable rides, because either they could not afford the care they needed elsewhere, or the access to appropriate healthcare for their situation simply did not exist at any other time in any other place throughout their country. We had three doctors with us, an orthopedic surgeon, a gynecological surgeon, and an ophthalmologist. They each brought only the support staff absolutely necessary to conduct their procedures. And then there was me. Humbled and almost ashamed as all the Honduran faces eyed us expectantly. I tried very hard to hide my fear and give them back my most confident and serious face as if to say, “Why yes, of course I am exceedingly qualified to scrub the blood off the instruments after surgery. Can’t you tell?” This just wasn’t something for which I was bringing anything to the table. This was God doing his work, and I was just along for the ride.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses… Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15a, 16
I clearly don’t have a medical background, and I know there were a few others with us that either didn’t have a medical background, or had one that wasn’t directly related to the work they needed to do at the clinic. I saw God bless them for stepping out of their comfort zone and into his will. Even those with extensive medical background and expertise in the area of their work at the clinic were stepping out of their comfort zone, and I saw God bless them, too. There’s no big hospital bureaucracy, no hoops to jump through, no bosses to appease. But that also means there’s no safety net, no traditional support system, and no one to refer special cases to. Just over a dozen people to meet the needs of desperate patients in great need of care. Patients who can’t afford to pay much money, but rather pay richly with hope, trust, friendship, gratitude, and love.
I was also humbled as I was reminded of how much work I need to do on my Spanish. The school where I’ll be teaching is English-speaking, but that’s barely true of the community. If I want to have real connections with real people, I’m going to need to be able to approach them (at least on a basic level) in their language. This is another area where I’m bringing nothing to the table. I might know the very basics, but God is pushing me, stretching me, using something that is external to me to do his work. That said, there’s something almost magical about trying to communicate past a language barrier. There are situations and affections that arise from your interactions that simply wouldn’t if you spoke the same language. I found I could almost understand a few jokes in Spanish here and there… I probably understood more jokes in Spanish than the medical ones in English around the dinner table. And those medical people don’t care if you’re eating, they need to tell you about the grossest case they had, and they need to do it now. Anyway, on Friday, we got to go zip lining (which was incredible), and three Honduran guys were driving us to the top of the course in the back of a pickup. The driver stopped to point out an enormous iguana sitting on a rock. I looked at the Honduran guys and said “almuerzo,” which means “lunch.” They laughed. Man, I’m funny.
Another humbling experience happened on Tuesday when I got to go to the school and shadow a few classes. It was wonderful to get a dose of reality and see what the everyday will look like for me. As it turns out, Honduran high school students are just that… high school students. They’re absolutely wonderful, but it made me realize that I’ll be responsible for their education, and reminded me that I don’t have the professional background to be able to walk into a classroom on day one and command respect. I mean, those of you who know me well are aware of the natural way I exude authority, but even that might not be enough.
Here’s a shot of the school, showing just a couple of the many classrooms. About 400 students attend there, from Pre-K to 12th grade.
Oh, and I barfed again. At 1AM on the morning we needed to get up at 4AM for the trip back, I woke up and got sick. I’m not sure if it was dehydration or just something I ate or what, but it reminded me that even my basic physical being can’t handle this by itself. After a quick prayer for healing, I got in a few more hours of sleep and actually felt pretty good for the trip back. God was continuing to teach me to rely on him. It’s not only that I’m bringing nothing to the table, it’s that I even need to be carried to the table in the first place.
So what do we do when we’re utterly unprepared for the road ahead? While we can and should rely fully on God, he also gave us each other. We are meant to help one another in this life, and I have had so many friends, many of which are teachers, offer their help, whether it be advice, prayer, practical tips, or tutoring in Spanish. So far, no one has stepped up to train me in orthopedic surgery… maybe some other time. But my point is that humility can be an expression of love whether it is directed toward God or toward others. We can’t do it all by ourselves, and how true of a joy it is to be helped by your brothers and sisters. One verse kept running through my head all week as the medical brigade team worked and relaxed with one another. From Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Now this isn’t some special state of being reserved for people who go on mission trips and only for when they are on mission trips. This is the way God intended for life to be lived all the time. Where you are now. With the people who are near you now.
The good news of the gospel doesn’t leave us with any room for complaining or stubbornness or complacency or self-centeredness. Even though we can still struggle with each (as I do), the gospel only leaves room for praise, willingness, motivation, and love. When we get involved in each other’s lives, and we start genuinely caring and empathizing and helping, then we’ve done it. We’ve stepped into the gospel. It doesn’t have to be in a faraway land. It’s not something that only happened two thousand years ago. It’s something alive, active, and powerful. Powerful enough to bring us joy in sharing the sorrows of others. Powerful enough to overcome our past and look toward our future. Powerful enough to mend relationships we’ve given up on. Powerful enough to completely transform everything we’d ever thought we had known. And the best part is that it’s simple. Maybe not always easy, but it’s simple. Love one another.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35
So love it is. We should all strive to do our best to show – and to gratefully receive – love. As I have been humbled, I have also been overwhelmingly reassured. It is not just our family that is responsible for accomplishing this work in Honduras. It will only be accomplished through the love of God and the love of others that is so strong that I know this cannot fail. I’m thrilled to watch God’s work as it unfolds, in Honduras, and here in Michigan, and everywhere else in between and beyond.
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