Most people would spend their vacations in Belize lying on the beach or snorkeling near the coral reef, but not Robert Weinhold.
Weinhold is the senior pastor of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John in Sycamore, and together with his congregation, he helps with mission and outreach programs around the world. Weinhold vacationed in Belize during the last two weeks of January with his wife, Lisa. While on vacation, he met with Lutheran missionaries and recognized an opportunity to help make a difference in lives of the country’s poor.
He also recently visited Guatemala and saw the missionary work taking place there. He attended the dedication of a well in a small town outside of Quetzaltenango that would pump water from the valley up into the mountains. Before the building of the well, women had to carry pots of water up steep hills each day for water. Five congregations in the United States came together and donated money to complete the $34,000 project.
Weinhold is planning a mission trip for October or November to Belize and is helping raise money for future projects in Guatemala. He talked about his mission work with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton.
Milton: What did you do in Belize?
Weinhold: We had a great opportunity to see the beautiful country, learn about its history, and we also saw the poverty of the country of Belize. We saw the opportunity to really help and make a difference in a lot of the high school boys in Belize. …My wife and I both had the sense that we would come back again. One of the best things about Belize is that their primary language is English. That really helps you do cross-cultural ministry more than in many of the other Latin-American countries.
Milton: So Belize was not a mission trip?
Weinhold: No, it was just a vacation, something we did on our own. We are making plans to go back perhaps in October or November of this year. And go there again on vacation in January next year. As a church event, we would go back to train to lead other mission groups. When we go in January again on vacation, I will teach Bible classes. My wife, who is a CPA, will go and work on accounting, spreadsheets, and computer-related things associated with running a nonprofit organization.
Milton: What did you see in Guatemala?
Weinhold: We also saw a school building that was built with money from Lutheran churches. One of the really dramatic times during the week was the time that we visited the local waste dump. It was a place where people decided to start dumping stuff, and I was able to spend time with and witness the women and children that live in the dump. They eat the food that they can pick out of the dump, and they try to salvage the plastic and metals. …The dogs and the smell, it was something really tragic to see.
You watch movies and you see images of homeless people, but I would be hard-pressed to find this in America. There, little boys and girls with no shoes on run around in a dump with a stick poking at stuff. …They live on a dollar or two a day. $1.50 would be a very good day for them.
Milton: What did you find most interesting on your trip to Guatemala?
Weinhold: One of the things that really impressed me was that as poor as they were, we never saw any people begging. They were all working. Selling stuff, little shops that were reselling things, and there were plants in between houses, around houses. There would be a shack that is falling down, yet there is a row of corn growing right next to it. Everybody was out doing something, from carrying wood on their head going up to the hills, reselling items, or working with their cows.
…One time, we saw one solitary pig on the side of the road and a harness and chain. All they could raise is that one pig. …People are working hard to take care of themselves and are just barely scraping by.
Milton: Nobody approached you or asked for money while you were there?
Weinhold: While we were at the dump, there were between eight and 10 children there. But not one person came up to us and asked for money. Nobody begged. …You would think that they would see it as a great opportunity to ask these rich Americans for money.
Milton: Did what you saw at the dump influence you?
Weinhold: I think that one of the things that we’ll be doing is trying to figure out a way to get these women and children out of the dump. …What impressed me the most were the looks on their faces when we came to share the word of God. They are not only needy physically, but needy spiritually. To have the opportunity to share Christ, to share a message of hope, that there are people that care about them, and who are willing to do something to help them. …This has been something new for me. God is opening a door to do that in our congregation. It’s kind of a surprise, not something I was really anticipating. …The opportunities are manifold, to serve God and to serve others.
Milton: What has changed since your trips?
Weinhold: This is actually something I addressed in my sermon last Sunday. I find that I have less patience for the whining and complaining that goes on in the United States. …How can we complain when we have so much and they have so little? Is it really that important when you have kids scrounging in dumps and we’re complaining? …Due to my trips, I’ve had my perspectives flipped upside down. It has really opened my eyes.