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A Mayan girl waiting for class to begin at The Learning Center of Cruz Blanca, Guatemala. Click to enlarge pictures.
A Mayan girl waiting for class to begin at The Learning Center of Cruz Blanca, Guatemala. Click to enlarge pictures.
A wooden, portable classroom is decorated by child handprints at The Learning Center.
A wooden, portable classroom is decorated by child handprints at The Learning Center.
Recess is fun in any culture.
Recess is fun in any culture.
This class was learning how to “feel” things by being blindfolded and asked what object they were given.
This class was learning how to “feel” things by being blindfolded and asked what object they were given.
Enjoying the visit from American guests.   One little boy plucked up enough courage to tell me “Good Morning” in perfect English and the rest of the class giggled.
Enjoying the visit from American guests. One little boy plucked up enough courage to tell me “Good Morning” in perfect English and the rest of the class giggled.
Class in session at the Learning Center.
Class in session at the Learning Center.
A traditional healer of the village showed us how she weaves.  She said she learned the skill at age 11.
A traditional healer of the village showed us how she weaves. She said she learned the skill at age 11.
The weaver's daughter’s name is Jaunita and she attends The Learning Center.
The weaver's daughter’s name is Jaunita and she attends The Learning Center.
Matt from VisionTrust interacting in the village.
Matt from VisionTrust interacting in the village.
The historical city of Antigua was just a short drive away from Cruz Blanca, The city was Guatemala’s capital until an earthquake destroyed much of it in the 1700s.
The historical city of Antigua was just a short drive away from Cruz Blanca, The city was Guatemala’s capital until an earthquake destroyed much of it in the 1700s.
A colorful church adjacent to Antigua’s town square. Antigua was founded by Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th Century.
A colorful church adjacent to Antigua’s town square. Antigua was founded by Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th Century.
Cobblestone streets in old town Antigua. Volcán de Agua (or water volcano) is the background.
Cobblestone streets in old town Antigua. Volcán de Agua (or water volcano) is the background.
The day’s wash brings color to this village scene.  Running water is a blessing, however no sewer system means the likelihood of sickness and disease.
The day’s wash brings color to this village scene. Running water is a blessing, however no sewer system means the likelihood of sickness and disease.
Guatemalan children smiling for the camera.
Guatemalan children smiling for the camera.
Guatemala exports fresh flowers and here is an example of a lovely rose bush growing wild along a village’s whitewashed wall.
Guatemala exports fresh flowers and here is an example of a lovely rose bush growing wild along a village’s whitewashed wall.
My “aha” moment captured by my friend Andy Patterson.
My “aha” moment captured by my friend Andy Patterson.
A lone Mayan boy sitting under a basketball hoop on the edge of a village’s playground.
A lone Mayan boy sitting under a basketball hoop on the edge of a village’s playground.

The "Aha" Moment

Feb 20, 2012

Sometimes in life we are blessed with “aha” moments. These moments become, for lack of better words, mental photographs of a specific time that changed your life. It may be a small change or it may be huge.  In either case, these “moments” soon become part of who you are. Such moments have been few and far between for me. You see, like most people, I don’t like change all that much. I’m pretty content living here in South Dakota where I have family close by, a good job and good friends. 

A couple years ago, I was asked by a good friend to consider helping an orphanage he was involved with to make a video presentation for their supporters. This orphanage was in Tanzania, Africa. Long story short, I went. I experienced at least two “aha” moments on that trip. One was confirming my love of travel and the wonder of creation as I reveled in the sights and sounds of Serengeti National Park. The other more important moment came when a handful of four-year-old orphans stole my heart on the shores of Lake Victoria. I wasn’t the same after that. 

Fast forward to this February. I find myself in the small yard of VisionTrust Guatemala’s Learning Center in a poor, indigenous village of Guatemala when God blesses me with another “aha” moment. I’m there to assist a friend of mine learn how our church can become involved in helping the less fortunate and orphans of the world. I’m busy doing my “get the award-winning photo” thing so we can tell the story of VisionTrust to our church. As usual, I am loving every minute of the photographic experience. The kids were great subjects, full of life and happiness. Then class breaks and this little guy makes a beeline for me and proceeds to clamp onto my leg in what for him must have been a massive bear hug. That was when the “aha” moment started to happen. I kneel down and try to interact as best I can. I don’t know Spanish, but he doesn’t care. He is giggling and smiling. I pick him up like I do my nephew and hold him above my head and he laughs harder as he soars in the air. 

That was the moment. This kiddo was teaching me the lesson I needed for the trip. The fact is I need him as much as he needs me. Yeah, he might be short on food and clean clothes. He probably hasn’t seen his daddy in weeks…if at all. But he’s not short on love. He’s not short on gratitude and hospitality. He may experience poverty materially but he’s showing me by example that I experience poverty relationally. This American rugged individualism that has shaped me has left something important out. The fact that I don’t “need” anyone’s help to live comfortably has made me selfish and even a bit arrogant without even realizing it. Volunteering in poor countries continues to teach me that truly helping the needy means more than just handing out food and saying a prayer. Getting to know people and loving them is what matters. It is how Jesus ministered 2,000 years ago.

I realize this column is supposed to be about photography, but I guess I wanted to point out how a hobby or passion like photography can be a means to change in your life. Going on vacations or mission trips are a great reason to take your camera and document where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. However, don’t get so caught up in “getting the photo” that you never really meet the people or learn about the culture you visit. You might miss your “aha” moment. If it wasn’t for a little Mayan boy full of excitement and love, I would have.

 

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog

Comments

12:40 pm - Mon, February 20 2012
Audrey Mortensen said:
Why not find your "aha" moments in South Dakota, where there are Reservations full of beautiful people you white citizens consider to be sub-human? Why not change SD laws to incorporate all citizens into your good fortune so they might also enjoy "rugged individualism?" Everyone "needs" others to form communities, which can then become places where you all can prosper and promote the common good in the state. I left SD years ago and am now sad and embarrassed to say where I came from when I see the stifling political climate there. Land of Sunshine, Under God the People have forgotten Who made us all and why we are here!
01:44 pm - Mon, February 20 2012
Christian said:
Thanks for your comment Audrey. I appreciate your views, but I do want to clarify a few things for you. I grew up in Ziebach county on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Some of my closest friends all the way through high school were Native American. I do not and have not ever considered Native Americans sub-humans. Like you, I feel there are needs to be met right here in our state and not just globally. I also feel that generally speaking, most Americans don't understand how lucky they are to live in the USA and should be better givers. The larger point that I was trying to make is that just giving is not the full answer, we need to go the extra mile to invest in each other relationally as well.
02:46 pm - Mon, February 20 2012
Audrey Mortensen said:
Sorry I made a wrong assumption about you and did the very stereotyping that I condemn in others! That said, your story touched me about the "aha" moments.....as I have found the same in the hugs of my family in Myanmar whom I have visited twice, and in the faces of the children in Bhutan as they greeted us in English (which they all learn in school!) To me, the world is a big village, and we cannot be such isolationists that we only talk to people who look like us and share our own views! Now that I am retired at 81, I do a lot of contacting elected officials on the computer, as well as advocating for the homeless and the oppressed wherever I am. I am very active in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America here in Lawrence, KS, where we have a great Lutheran Campus Ministry (and a great Jayhawk basketball team!) Best wishes on your writing and photography!
05:43 am - Tue, February 21 2012
Ed Goss said:
Audrey I admire what you do but in your first comment you get after SD and South Dakota did not form the Reservations the feds did and the fed's send the bucks to them and not to SD.

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