By Jordan Beach
Annese Blockley’s journey to Guatemala began her first year at Reinhardt after meeting the founder of Identify, Kristi Carr, at a Reinhardt Women’s Leadership Program meeting. Blockley felt eager to serve as soon as possible, but God had other plans in mind.
With fundraising and planning underway, Annese received news from her doctor just months before her mission trip. Her diagnosis of Femoral Acetabular Impingement of the hip required surgery to reshape her right hip and repairing the damage resulting from this condition.
While disappointed, Annese continued working with Carr to postpone for the following summer in 2018. The winter prior brought a diagnosis for her other hip—Developmental Dysplasia, meaning three more hip surgeries and another delay in plans.
During recovery, Annese felt God leading her to suggest the possibility of providing a Vacation Bible School experience for special needs children in Guatemala, a familiar area for the future special needs educator.
“I just expected to be a team member again, but she took me by surprise and asked me to be a co-leader on the team. It was incredible to work under Kristi and see the ‘behind-the-scenes' of the mission field. I had the privilege of learning valuable leadership and planning skills from her. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Annese worked with Carr to write a short curriculum on “Unexpected Heroes,” the unexpected people God used throughout the Bible. She created games and crafts to supplement lessons. Her goal was for the “special needs students to leave knowing that God can use anyone with any abilities for His greater good.”
Finally, the many setbacks began making sense.
“It took a lot of pressing into God for me to trust that this was for His plans,” said Annese. “Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of doubts, but when the planning started for the third mission experience, I knew that it was in His plans all along.”
Annese’s mission trip dream finally came true this summer. She and her brother Aidan, a sophomore double major in sociology-criminal justice and interdisciplinary studies, spent time teaching children of Guatemala about God’s love June 8-16. They held a three-day VBS at a special needs school in Izabul, a small community in Lívingston, then two, one-day experiences in surrounding communities, Rio Salado and Siete Altares. Throughout their time, they visited families, offering prayers and community-building opportunities to provide support.
The RWLP opportunity brought unique perspectives to weave into her education from the Price School of Education, allowing her to deepen her understanding of the students she may encounter in her own classroom.
“This experience made me so much more grateful for the resources we have access to in order to serve our special needs students. It also made me much more aware of what my migrant students have gone through prior to moving here. You truly can't understand that sort of thing until you experience it for yourself. I hope that these experiences will help me to understand more of my students in the future.”
The mission trip also challenged Aidan in ways that promoted personal growth and tested his faith. He hopes for a chance to travel back to spend more time serving Guatemala.
“This trip helped me to realize the incredible love God has for these kids, and I’ve gotten to see the immense strength each individual kid has when facing their everyday challenges,” said Aidan. “Seeing that first-hand was a great way for me to learn other perspectives and remind myself of the true purpose of God's kingdom—servitude and recognizing the value of each individual, no matter their ability.”
Several years of planning, fundraising and waiting came to fruition for Annese this summer, however, her calling to serve feels far from finished. At the end of the week when Annese asked her team to summarize their trip in one word, her word was “incomplete.” Her first meeting with Carr provided a reminder of her ongoing calling in the form of a Quetzal coin, Guatemalan currency.
“Throughout my surgeries, I held on to the coin to remind me of His promise to send me to Guatemala one day. I still have that coin, and now it serves as a reminder of all that He has done, and all that is to come.”
Photos provided by Annese and Aidan Blockley.