Repost from…Go…Be…Serve…Guatemala Mission
Now, in following the Spirit, there is always a time to come and a time to go, and I try to pay attention to the signs so that I don’t miss my exit. For in order to hear Spirit and not the random opinions of the crowd or your own insecurities, you may have to be silent and attentive to the myriad of ways in which Spirit speaks to know when to come and when to go. In coming here, I saw a job announcement on Facebook within seconds of my friend Clarissa (who would become the project’s new Executive Director) posting it, and I was led to investigate the opportunity. I went through the interviewing and screening process in November 2014 which ended in an invitation to begin service in March 2015 and in a need to raise about $10,000 per year to supplement the small stipend that volunteers received. At the time, I had no idea how it would all come together, but I knew from experience that where God gives vision, God also gives provision. Therefore, I said yes to Guatemala without having an airline ticket, monthly supporters, and not even 1% of my $12,000 annual budget.
However, as I took steps towards the goal, the path began to materialize, the fog cleared, and the darkness lifted. My friend Nicola heard of my plans to serve in missions, and through her and her husband’s nonprofit, I received my first donation in the form of a $300 grant. At my pastor’s suggestion, I applied for a grant from the Justice & Reconciliation team of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and my application was approved for a $2,500 grant which they generously renewed for my second year at $3,500. Then Aubrey, who I didn’t meet until I arrived in Guatemala on March 11, 2015 bought me not one but two round-trip airline tickets and she has been my single largest donor as well as a dear friend. By the time I arrived in Guatemala, family, friends, and colleagues had contributed over $1,000 and I only had one monthly donation of $10 coming in. With a distance to go in order to meet my goal, I made an appeal to friends and family in August 2015 and the donations poured in totaling more than $2,000 that month. Over time, my one donor grew to six donors and monthly donations totaling $560 from Joe and Juanita, Lacy, Betsy, Cecelia, Aubrey, and Union Memorial UMC. All of my financial and physical needs were met in ways I hadn’t contemplated and beyond what I could have imagined by so many people that I have known from various stages of my life and for varying periods of time. The list is too long to go into here, but in the coming weeks I will post a list of donors that have made this mission experience possible. I am eternally grateful for their generosity!
So, as my coming was confirmed and affirmed by so many people, my going would also have its signs. Knowing when to leave and where you are going, however, can be a bit trickier. For although Clarissa and I had started talking about my transition before October, I did not have an exact date nor a destination, but I was paying attention to the signs that pointed me to where and when. I also knew that I was committed to completing my two year commitment, finishing up some outstanding projects, and leaving things a little better than I found them, which is my goal for every assignment. I knew my departure date was on the horizon when I left Guatemala for the holidays, but I had no idea where I was going. By the time I returned to Guatemala in January, though, I had clarity on where I was going, and a sense that when I was going would be sooner rather than later.
The signs that my departure was imminent started when I tried to check in for my flight to return to Guatemala in January. The Delta agent insisted that I had to have a visa since my flight was more than 90 days out. Her co-worker’s intervention, however, got the issue resolved, and I safely landed in Guatemala City that evening where I had planned to stay overnight, but the hotel shuttle was not there to pick me up, and my phone did not work. The shuttle eventually came to pick up another guest and I made it safely to the hotel. As my phone was not working, I could not confirm the shuttle to get me back to Panajachel, and the agency was not responding to my Facebook messages. Thankfully however, as I was checking out of the hotel, the agency called the front desk and arranged a shuttle back to Panajachel for me. When I arrived home that evening, there was no internet, and of course, my phone did not work–essentially cutting me off from the world.
As all of this happened within a 36 hour period, I started to wonder if the universe was trying to tell me something, and so I continued to read the signs–not as a judgment on anyone–but as bread crumbs from God. And sure enough the signs kept coming as I arrived back at the project to discover that a newly hired person had claimed my desk, that government regulation had changed and the small stipend that the organization pays us can no longer be paid in country but must be deposited into our accounts in the states. Back on the home front, I also discovered that my landlady was living outside in a tent in the middle of windy season (and still is to this day). Then in mid-February, the landlady summoned me to her tent to ask if I would be here in June, and to request an answer by the next day. Now, it would have been easy to dismiss her question as ridiculous had there not been so many signs that time was running out. So, I considered it overnight and felt confident that I would be gone by June–freeing her up to take an Airbnb reservation.
The next sign takes the cake! When I went to the ATM to withdraw money for the March rent, I discovered that my debit card had been canceled, and I also could not withdraw money from my Guatemalan account, because the 30 day hold on my personal check had not been lifted. However, why my debit card was canceled was a mystery until I contacted the bank and found out that, lo and behold, my bank had been gobbled up by a bigger bank and all my old bank’s debit cards were canceled as of February 28. Therefore, as my bank no longer exists, they could not reactivate the card and there is no reliable way to ship the new card here. Of course, the bank did send notices out 30 days in advance, but I was already back in Guatemala by that time. So, I had to wait it out a few days for the check to clear. This presented yet another opportunity for me to reflect on what this interesting set of circumstances might be communicating.
It became clear that when I was going would be much sooner than I thought–as in before my 90 day visa runs out. At this point there was no need to incur the costs of visa renewal when I cannot even access my bank account or my stipend. And is that not where this saga started at the airport, with the controversy over me overstaying my 90 day visa? It is as if the Spirit was saying at the onset of my return trip that anything over 90 days would be overstaying my welcome, and I try my best not to overstay my welcome. When I initially booked my flight, my departure date was a stab in the dark, but I extended it three months beyond my anniversary date in the event that I needed to transition a new person, but with the series of signs and no new person on the horizon, the date was now crystal clear.
The veil about where I was going was lifted over the holidays, and on April 4, 2017, I will depart Guatemala and have a two day layover in Washington, DC before heading back home to Charleston, SC to begin the next adventure! After almost 29 years away, the Spirit and the ancestors have called me home to embody the life I was created to live–somewhere at the intersection of spirituality, creativity, and justice! For the moment, that means completing my book which has been on hold for the last two years, and I even started blogging for the 40 Days of Lent at http://www.blissfulauthenticity.com to get those creative juices flowing again. Once I get settled, I will also begin working with a local nonprofit in Charleston.
Over the past two years, God has had me in process as I did some incredible work, connected with some amazing people, and loved on some precious children! For the privilege and honor of serving here I am forever grateful! I also cannot thank you enough for being such generous and gracious supporters and companions on this journey with me! May God richly bless you for your kindness towards me as I served with and among the people of Guatemala!
Tara LaShawn Seabrook is a self-proclaimed “free spirit,” a public, practical, and prophetic theologian; a spiritual and social justice activist; a creative and cultural artist; and a prolific teacher, speaker, and writer. Currently, she resides in Guatemala where she is finishing up a 2-year volunteer in mission commitment with a non-governmental organization before returning to her native Charleston, SC in the spring of 2017. Her book based on her original poem, “I Am She: The Anthology” will be released later this year.