She scuffed her turquoise Birkenstocks on the steepest hill in the village street as she raced the little girl with scrawny legs to the top. Sucking in her breath, she had gotten a running start, the shoes smacking down hard on the blazing Guatemalan pavement. She didn’t even notice that her vibrant, hand-made skirt was dragging and fraying at the ends. Never had she wanted to sprint up a hill so much in her life. Sophomore Kylie Schultz held out her hands for a relationship that she never thought she would want.
The 7-year-old girl with shy brown eyes and a timid smile was waiting at the top as she giggled at her undeniable victory. The little Guatemalan girl with wiry arms began to sprint down again, tugging at Kylie’s wrist, clamping down on her rainbow-beaded bracelet. They stumbled down the last stretch of hill, the little game forgotten.
The girls stared at each other, one pair of eyes blue, the other a watery brown. The little Guatemalan girl spoke with her eyes, her breath still uneven, “Te amo, Kylie,” I love you. Kylie smiled as she searched the girl’s face, wondering exactly what it was that made her want to say it back. She leaned forward and hugged her. She could no longer deny what it was that connected her to this girl: genuine affection.
* * *
Kylie Schultz didn’t believe in the insufferable tolerance of handling children; her ability to put up with them had been extinguished, she says, by her tantalizing experiences babysitting. The impossible circumstances of keeping a restless child pacified, calming them when they are scared and even putting up with constant disobedience has kept Schultz from ever being able to have a real relationship with children. This thought plagued her as she clambered into her aisle seat on the plane headed to Guatemala. Her worst regret was the fact that she was “fatally flawed” at the Spanish language.
Yet, knowing this, she was still headed out of the country for the first time, on a mission trip with her youth group from Hillcrest Covenant Church. They were to spend 10 days of their spring break in various places in Guatemala teaching young children about God. Several weeks in advance, the youth group had also worked on what they were to teach the children about different school subjects, namely math, science, spelling and English.
She scolded herself mentally on the plane. She was anxious about the purpose she would serve on the trip, worrying she wouldn’t be able to make a connection with the children there. But as they arrived in Guatemala, looking out through the plane’s window she saw the frayed folds of the mountainside beneath her, layered and coated with clouds. And she saw that this was a heavenly place, reminding her of why she was on that plane to begin with.
“[Our youth pastor, Nate] told us that we weren’t there to bring God [to Guatemala],” Schultz said. “God was already there, working. We were just there to bring even more.”
* * *
The bus lurched and sputtered as Schultz and her youth group wobbled into Panajachel, in Guatemala City. Through the window, the glint of a machete caught her eye. She soon realized there wasn’t just one that she was seeing, but several. Men everywhere were armed with gleaming machetes. To Schultz’s surprise, the trees scattered across the city were swaying with hammocks of all shades and patterns of differing personalities.
After settling in and spending the night in a small hotel in Panajachel, the group traveled to visit the school full of children that were excitedly anticipating their arrival. Filled with adrenaline and doubt, Schultz stepped off the bus. Eyes shining with excitement, dozens of little heads came bobbing towards her. Overwhelmed, Schultz was shocked when it happened. A little girl ran up and jumped into her arms, giving her a tentative kiss on her cheek. Dazed, Schultz squatted down, her long skirt pooling on the pavement, and hugged her back.
“Sheily was the first girl that I met,” said Schultz. “She was the first one who taught me how much [the kids] can love you. If someone, a complete stranger [in Kansas] were to come up to you and give you a big kiss on the cheek, they would be like, ‘what the heck?’ But that’s just who [these kids in Guatemala] are.”
After the two girls met, Kylie and Sheily’s race up and down the steep hill beside the school became ritual. Through ragged breaths, the two would exchange timid words. “¿Cómo se dice?, How do you say that?” asked Schultz, pointing to the mountains.
“Montaña, mountain” said Sheily.
“¿Cómo se dice?,” asked Schultz again, this time gesturing to the volcano far off behind the city.
“Volcán, volcano,” said Sheily with her watery brown eyes.
Schultz had never felt more comfortable with children in her life. Their immediate affection and love, to Schultz, was stunning. Just through running up and down a hill, exchanging hugs, and laughing through shaky Spanish, the two girls were friends instantly.
“We did the hill run a lot more times, and we are just exhausted because it was so steep, and we were sprawled out on the base of the hill,” said Schultz. “And then [Sheily] sees this little bush full of little orange flowers, and so she comes up to me and kind of pushes me over, and she and two of these other little girls sit me down and they put all of these little flowers in my hair. It was so sweet, so I didn’t take them out until bedtime.”
During the final days of the trip spent in the cramped school room filled with letters of the alphabet, and numbers on the wall, Schultz realized that she didn’t want to leave. Since the first day when Sheily held her hand and kissed her on the cheek, Schultz couldn’t quite separate herself from that obvious connection. This time, it was something she couldn’t pull away from.
She didn’t want to go back home where the kids she babysat for wreaked havoc. Every experience with children pushed her farther away from a relationship she could never have. She wanted to stay with Sheily, and with the others she met. She wanted to stay with one of the little boys, Juan, who had carefully and meticulously strung her a multicolored beaded bracelet. She wanted to stay with Sheily to race every day on the steep hill, and she wanted a hug and ticklish whispers in her ear in Spanish.
* * *
Weeks later, back in Kansas, on the eve of Easter, the church is full of families and toddlers with grins the size of their faces. Their Easter egg hunt was exhilarating, and the thirst for more eggs was vigorous. The service was starting and the organ was vibrating the entire sanctuary all the way up to the high-vaulted ceiling.
The stone was rolled away.
Standing up in an aisle close to the back, Schultz was swaying and her rainbow bracelet was tied onto her wrist. She smiled and grazed her fingers over her beads, singing to a song that had begun to outline her life after the trip. She realized that something she never thought would be brought back, had resurfaced.
He died and rose again.