“Are you really going to eat that?” Before I even ask the question, I feel my face screw, nose turning up in disgust. I’ve never been good at playing poker; my expression is always a give away.
It was some type of street vendor pig-rind tostada slathered in a yellow mayonnaise-like cream sauce. Half way down the bumpy, unpaved road leaving the rural Guatemalan village, he had driven up to the street vendor, a member of their local church plant, chatted with her casually in fluent Spanish, and bought two of her tostada (things).
“Nope,” he laughs at my question, likely sensing the panic in my voice, as he hands the tostadas to his wife who sits in the passenger seat. “But they are popular in the village.”
He’s driving again, rounding a small corner where women gather to wash their clothes in the stream, their babies tied to their backs. We drive a bit further, and then we begin to slow; he seems to spot someone he knows.
Pulling alongside a man, my missionary friend reaches his hand out the car window and greets the passerby as a brother. I soon discover that this man was another member of their local church community, and from my intermediate-level understanding of Spanish, I could make out my friend asking if the man had eaten dinner (he hadn’t) and if he was hungry (he was). Taking the tostada things from his wife, Mitch—my missionary friend—holds them out the window, clearly offering them to the man. “Los dos?” (Both of them?) the man asks, staring at the second one with hungry eyes. “Yes,” Mitch responds simply, “I bought them for you.”
When I lived in Guatemala as a teen, we remained pretty isolated in our small village, only befriending a few native families that worked with my father at his remote missionary clinic. We knew we were only there for a year, so we didn’t invest in the community. My parents and younger brothers spoke broken Spanish, and while I was semi-bilingual, this often didn’t matter, as the residents of our village primarily spoke the Mayan language, Quiche. It’s easy to understand why we mostly stayed home.
In many ways, it was a beautiful, magical year. As a fifteen-year-old, I translated for medical teams and even had the opportunity to assist in minor surgeries. I held instruments while a visiting ophthalmologist removed cataracts from Dona Margarita’s aged eyes. This experience was particularly special because I knew the patient. My parents occasionally sent me to visit her tiny home, scooting me out our door with foil-wrapped plates of beans and rice to deliver, an excuse to check on the lonely widow who had become blind. In a cracked voice, she sang “Gracias a Dios” when opening her eyes after the surgery and seeing for the first time in years. Truly, my father and other medical teams did (and still do) tremendous good when they bring their specialized skills and expertise to serve those who most need it. It’s beautiful to see people offer their gifts to love a hurting world.
But sometimes, those of us who are not doctors or nurses, who are not independently wealthy philanthropists, can feel a bit discouraged. We can’t save lives or restore sight. How can we really make a difference?
I felt this way for a long time, and sometimes I still do. There is so much hurt, so much darkness in the world, can we honestly make a difference? Watching Mitch and Amanda that week in Guatemala reminded me what simple, honest, humble (and smart) service looks like. It reminded me that, when given time to grow, small actions done in love can create change. And it reminded me that at the core of every one of us, we long to be seen, to be known, to be understood—to feel worthy.
It was in living these values and fostering relationships with women in rural Guatemala that Mitch and Amanda, along with their business partner Cassie, founded The Thrive Collective. The goal of The Thrive Collective is to create opportunity through handmade goods to empower communities to THRIVE. I originally connected with The Thrive Collective through my purposeful shop, Storyweaver Mercantile, and while I LOVE their beautiful products and am honored to carry them in my store, it has been a such a blessing to know them beyond just the business of selling missional goods.
A highlight of my trip was meeting the lovely artisan women behind the brand.
Dora, Sandra, Aura, and Vilma—four beautiful women who proudly make the paper bead bracelets that have become a trademark for The Thrive Collective and have been a bestseller at Storyweaver. Living in rural villages where there are little-to-no opportunities for women to work, these ladies skillfully cut, wrap, seal, and string the paper beads from the comfort of their own homes. This flexibility is particularly significant, as it allows them to carry out their daily tasks and to care for their children, two of which have special needs.
Brushing tears from her eyes, Sandra explained that this work has changed the lives of her family. “Thank you for buying our jewelry and for telling others to buy our jewelry,” she half-giggled as she cried and then hugged me again, her damp face radiant with joy and gratitude, yet still lined with struggle. She wasn’t exaggerating; it had changed her life.
Sandra is now able to pay medical bills for her special needs daughter; Vilma is able to pay for her kids schooling, and Dora and Aura are able to contribute to supporting their family of 7. That’s real life transformation happening through our simple purchases!
We may not all be doctors or missionaries or philanthropists, but something that encouraged me during my return to Guatemala was the visual reminder that we can make a difference. Making a difference in the lives of a few matters greatly to those individuals. It matters to Sandra, Dora, Aura, and Vilma. And that matters to me.