Katie and Juana - Amigas por Siempre
We are honored to share the stories of those who serve with us around the world. Katie Schaefer lives in Washington, but her heart has found its home in Guatemala. For the past three years, she has traveled with her church to Cerro de Oro, where she has built homes, taught students, and ministered to the women of the community.
I met Juana in July 2013 during my very first mission trip. If you've spent any time in Cerro de Oro it is likely that you've had the pleasure of meeting Juana. I am not sure if it is because she is so beautiful and much taller than some of the other kids but she just shines and stands out in the crowd. I am convinced that we could be standing in a crowd of a thousand people and still our eyes would meet.
I am always keeping an eye out for her, anywhere and everywhere I go in Cerro de Oro. Inevitably I always find Juana's beautiful smile shining back at me from across the school courtyard or out in front of the church. If I don't see her first she will always greet me with a sharp poke to my side - I don't even have to turn to see who it is, I already know.
I clearly remember standing out front of the church during my 3rd trip in 2014 and pulling together enough courage to tell her how very special she is to God and to me too! The next words out of my mouth were raw and I couldn't keep them from spilling out.
"I love you my sweet friend."
Once those words were translated, there was no going back and I wasn't sure how she would react. Would she blush and run away? Would she be confused as to why this woman from so far away would say that to her? I was quickly aware that I may have potentially created an awkward situation. God fixed those fears in an instant, and instead of rejection I was met with a big smile and a huge hug from my sweet friend.
Every year and sometimes several times a year I get to return that big hug to Juana. However, as the years have gone on and our friendship has grown I find myself thinking that the day may come when I won't see her. She is going to grow up, she might stop going to school or move away. Is it possible that we could forget our friendship? As I prepared for a return to Guatemala in February 2016 I decided that I would get two necklaces - one for each of two very special girls in my life from Cerro de Oro. Of course, one would belong to Juana!
A silver heart, broken in half. One side reads "Friends," and the other side "Forever".
For that trip, we would only spend one short afternoon at the school. At the end of the afternoon I walked away with both necklaces in my hand, concerned that I did not see Juana's sweet face. I tucked hers away and prepared to bring it with me the next time. I prayed that I would again be met with her beautiful smile.
Fast forward to July 2016, and our High Pointe team was at the school for our first day of classes. After some time I looked up and saw Juana staring at me from behind the surrounding fence. Once we were reunited, we sat together quietly on the stairs and I put my hand in hers, releasing the necklace from my grip. I showed her my half of the necklace already around my neck that had the word "Forever" written on it. I then pointed to hers which read "Friends" and said to her, "Amigas por siempre". She smiled in agreement and I helped her put the necklace on.
I was so thankful at that moment that God brought our friendship together. I am reminded every time I return of the importance of relationships - relationships that we pour ourselves into for the sake of showing God through our love for each other. Juana is a natural leader with a servant's heart. I watch her with the younger kids and even with her peers. She is constantly guiding them and looking for any opportunity to help out. God has wired this young lady to serve Him greatly. I pray that God gives Juana and I even more opportunities to grow our relationship and that we will find Him at the center of our friendship for many more years to come. It isn’t about the necklace or the laughter shared, but rather it is more about the reason behind our friendship. God brought us together and I pray that others realize the value in the relationships that can be created during a mission trip, short or long term.
God created us for relationship and fellowship with one another.
Mission trips can be difficult and can challenge you to step out of a comfort zone but I would urge you to accept that call from God. He wired us all with different skills but He wired us all to love and to love big. Don’t be afraid to share that love we’ve received. All people need to know that they are loved by our father and you can be the carrier of that love.
"We love because He first loved us." - John 4:19