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James Ferragut, Published March 17 2012

Ferragut: Mission rich in lessons

It wasn’t until the third night that I grasped the gravity of what I was experiencing. I was drifting to sleep in a hammock supported by wooden poles in the thatched-roof hut that featured a dirt floor

and an occasional scorpion or tarantula.

A Mayan family prepared their kids for bed in a hut 20 feet away. Voices and laughter drifted through the darkness of the jungle – any family’s bedtime routine. The kids laughed and giggled while mom’s and dad’s voices were in turn stern and benevolent.

I looked through the poles of my hut to see only the amber light of candles from inside their hut. That’s when it hit me: The kids, so well-behaved, weren’t watching TV or glued to phones or computers. All they had was the soft glow of the candles and the love of their family.

We were in a remote jungle village, Xpom. It’s not on Google Maps, or any map. It’s 300 miles from Cancun. The closest “mapped” town is Yuxcaba, and the road ends 12 miles to the west near an even smaller village. Xpom (pronounced “shpom”) is another 90 minutes, maybe two hours farther west on a narrow, rocky roller coaster of a road through dense jungle.

Fifty-nine souls live in Xpom without electricity, water or sewage services. They work every minute of the day – coaxing sustenance from unforgiving dry land. Our mission group was there to finish a project that had been started last year: building a church. The work was hard and hot. Conditions were challenging but not overwhelming. Each day we worked until it got too hot. We threw buckets of well water over our sweaty bodies for showers, played with kids and learned to communicate with adults.

There’s little that I can say about the mission experience that won’t sound like a cliché, but it was remarkable in every way.

To suggest that the people of Xpom are primitive is an insult to them. The skills and innovations they’ve used for hundreds of years provide everything they need. For example, the concept of “sharing” is engrained in the culture. We observed so many simple acts of selflessness that it defied comprehension. Watching life in Xpom truly gave new meaning to: “It takes a village to raise a child.” We use it as a marketing line; they live it as a requirement for survival.

The takeaway is that two different cultures worked, played, ate, sang, laughed and amused each other for seven days without speaking a common language. When it came time to leave, we knew we’d never see each other again. We cried, hugged and said our goodbyes.

Sure, First Lutheran’s 23 teenagers and six adults built a church in a dirt-poor lost village, and it will stand for 100 years. But we were the ones who were blessed. We were served up generous portions of humility. The bittersweet taste lingers.

Ferragut is general manager, marketing consultant for Fargo advertising firm.