The Danger of Thinking You're Rich


Unexpected realizations from the front lines of short term mission trips.

Photo credit: Mark Wensley
I’m a teacher by trade. Several years ago, I had the unique opportunity to chaperone a group of high school students on a short-term mission trip to Guatemala. We went for almost two weeks and were involved in a number of different “outreach” activities. Our main activities included painting the inside and outside of a small Christian school in rural Guatemala, while also running a short educational program for the students.

Prior to leaving Canada, we prepared for several months via weekly team meetings, during which we discussed and planned the details of our trip. We left for Guatemala with our personal luggage, several duffel bags full of handouts (school supplies and animal stuffies among them), and good intentions to help alleviate material poverty.

We had an unforgettable time in Guatemala. Our hearts were touched by the beauty of the country and its people, but also by the depth of poverty we witnessed.  Many of us had our eyes opened for the first time to “how the rest of the world lives.” A side trip to the garbage dump in Guatemala City where hundreds of people daily live in the midst of the trash, solidified the notion that Guatemala is a country where many suffer extreme poverty.


When we debriefed as a team on a nightly basis, there were several common responses to the material need we saw around us: We have so much. I can’t believe how much I take for granted back in Canada. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to help these people because I have been so blessed as a Canadian. I wish we had brought more things to give the children, because they have so little.

Those were legitimate responses. But to stop there is somehow incomplete. To stop there is, perhaps, even dangerous. 

For the implication of that response could be, “Because we are rich, because we have so much…we are blessed, we are better than these people. They are lucky that there are people like us to help them.”

Fortunately, in addition to our experiences of material poverty, we met Guatemalans who showed us through their actions how poor we are. How much we truly lack. That we, in our own ways, experience daily poverty as well.

Photo credit: Mark Wensley


We met Antonio, the principal of the small Christian school that we painted. He and his band of teachers worked there in addition to their regular full-time jobs in the public school system. And they worked there for next to nothing because they believe they can help change their students’ lives for the good. When I heard that, my first thought was They’re crazy! I would never do a second job for free. Later, I asked myself what does my knee jerk response say about my heart and my values? Do I possess enough passion for helping others to do it without getting something back?

Another day, we were able to spend time helping Rosa at the shelter she’d started years earlier for young moms victimized by abuse. Rosa’s goal was to provide a safe alternative to the street for these women and their children to recover and grow. She had dedicated her time, talents, and resources – her very life – to helping victims move past their pain towards healing. Am I aware of those in my own culture who are desperate, or in pain? What am I willing to dedicate to help them? As much as someone like Rosa?

And we also spent part of a day at Kairos Home, a lodging place in Guatemala City. Here, low-income families can stay for free while their children receive long-term treatment for cancer at the nearby national hospital. Kairos was started by Priscilla and her family, who shared how they felt God had asked them to open this place, even though they didn’t have the material resources to do so. They responded in faith, witnessed providential miracles, and when we visited, Kairos had already been serving families for more than seven years. 

Am I as rich in faith and courage as someone like Priscilla? Do I have the abundance of trust required to really listen when I feel challenged to help someone beyond my own means?

I returned from Guatemala with a strange combination of feelings. I was never more grateful that all of my daily, basic physical needs were regularly met. Yet, I was never more aware of the things of which I am in desperate need.

Since then, I’ve settled on the paradox that just as we are all rich in certain ways, we are all poor in others. May we have the wisdom to help address the poverty of those around us, and open ourselves so that others might address the poverty we carry within.

Photo credit: Mark Wensley

About Kevin Krikke: A teacher at an online school, Kevin currently lives with his wife and children in Chilliwack, British Columbia. He would love to get back to Guatemala for the chance to visit again with the incredible people he met there.



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Food for the Hungry: The Danger of Thinking You're Rich
The Danger of Thinking You're Rich
Food for the Hungry
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