Nathan Groenewold says that his first experiences as a volunteer with Christian Reformed World Missions in Honduras were “as shocking as my first cold bucket shower—the kind of shock that leaves you gasping for air.”
Living with a host family that spoke a different language and being hours away from paved roads was shocking. Yet as that shock wore off, Groenewold began to see why God had called him to this year-long service and learning experience.
Groenewold lived in Mangulile, a town located in a district particularly prone to violence and drug trafficking. Groenewold and his local ministry partner, a young man named Miguel, worked with the church in Mangulile to reach out to its young people.
While he believes that his countless hours of leading Bible studies, leadership training workshops, and other ministry activities did bring positive change, Groenewold also concluded that some of these missionary techniques have been harmful in the past.
“My friends and coworkers in Mangulile have been conditioned to submit without asking questions,” he said. “In our haste to correct, fix, teach, and donate, we have often sent the message, ‘Your ways are lesser.’”
Trying to reverse this way of thinking, Groenewold found that some of his most significant moments involved submitting to those who might be inclined to submit to him.
“My most important moments have been allowing my neighbor to teach me how he gathers up the corn stalks to burn before planting, chopping at weeds with a machete like a child, while the workers laugh at my clumsiness.”
Groenewold said his time in Honduras has left him with improved skills in ministry and an understanding of the culture that one could only get from the full immersion that he experienced. Now he is discerning how best to use these experiences.
“It’s possible that God called me, the only English speaker for three hours around, to reinforce a sort of discomfort in my life that just might never leave,” he said.