Guatemala Summary

Our team verse for this trip was Ephesians 2:10 which reads “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”. This verse is profound on many levels but what drew us to this trip was the thought that perhaps God had prepared in advance for us some works in the nation of Guatemala, both as individuals and as a church. This mission was undertaken by the 6 men in my small group and included two of our pastors, Todd Phillips and Nate Keeler so it was quite different from my previous trip.

We set out to work with the aptly named organization Bridge Builders to teach and interact with children at a school our church has supported, aid in building construction and deliver God’s message.

The first place we visited was a coffee Finca (or plantation) the Santa Anita Finca It was a fascinating place. This Finca was sold to the Mayan rebels after a peace accord ending 32 years of strife ended 10 years ago so all of the 30 families that owned and worked the coffee and banana harvests were formal rebels who had literally traded in their weapons for plows!

Our guide was a man named Rigoberto who just happened to be a former Commandante in the revolution. It was the most green, lush and verdant place I have ever seen. It was essentially a jungle of coffee plants, banana trees and loads of other types of vegetation and was very mountainous. We spent a great part of the day walking on very narrow paths that if you slipped off the edge you likely wouldn’t stop falling until you hit the bottom of the valley. It was during this time we were treated to one of the most humorous incongruities we have ever encountered. We found ourselves in a jungle following a Commandante hacking his way through the brush with a dull machete while talking on his cell phone! He had better reception than I do at my house!!!

We ended up at this idyllic spot at the base of a private waterfall. I realized that despite the difficulties of their lives the people of this Finca receive a daily blessing from God through their surroundings.

We then had lunch with the pastor of the village and many of the adults of the village. We got to hear a little about them and their lives and got to share with them about our mission and our faith. During the revolution the pastor was almost killed by government troops. They came to assassinate him and emptied an entire clip at him but they all missed. He escaped and joined the rebels for a decade. We were sad to hear that only 3 families and about 10 people in the community participated in the church. Perhaps it was because of the economic formation of the Finca or some other reason but we found that the framework of the peoples lives there focused on economics, what the government and charitable organizations did, or to their mind should do, for them. Faith was just something that was around and not a pillar of their lives. We were grateful for the opportunity to tell them that it was our faith that motivated us to be there and seek to help them.

We then watched a movie called Romero about the Archbishop of El Salvador and his transformation from a shrinking flower who was part of the elite to a voice for the people. Being in country and hearing about the Guatemalans struggle gave it a rich context we would otherwise not have had. Father Romero eventually gave up all his status and ultimately his life for the poor and oppressed of El Salvador. I have to admit I was in tears several times during the movie, at one point in particular. A young woman asked Romero for assurances about heaven so she would have something to look forward to and thereby conquer the fear that was keeping her from speaking and acting as she knew she should. I and for that matter all of us who know Jesus as our Lord need to remember the incredible power we have in the promise of salvation. There is absolutely no reason for fear.

So what to make of all of this in the context of our team verse? At first blush we thought perhaps we should raise money to help them pay off the debt on the land. However the fact of the matter is that they are paying their debts and expanding production every year so while their situation is one lacking in abundance and perhaps the debt servicing is burdensome the situation is not broken. Perhaps our efforts and resources would fill greater needs if directed to more desperate situations? Perhaps God is using the struggle to sharpen them and allow them to rely more acutely on Him? This how and where to help question is not a simple as it first seems.

After our time at Santa Anita we journeyed to Guatemala City to minister to “the children of the dump” and to work at a school and church that we had been supporting for a while. We had several large bags of crafts and school supplies that generous supporters had donated that were gladly received. It is amazing how much joy a child can derive from a marker or sticker.

One of our teammates Chris Stout received a special gift. He was able to meet two young brothers that he was sponsoring! What a small world.

There is one of the largest dumps/landfills in the world in the suburbs of Guatemala City. There is an entire city built around it where the residents derive a living off of the contents of the dump, harvesting recyclables, tires to make sandals and generally anything that can be recast as something of value. The homes are nothing more than row upon row of boxes made of corrugated aluminum. It is an understatement to say that it is not a great place. We met with willing families to bring some small gifts, talk with them about their faith and their lives and to just be with them. Once again the power of the ministry of presence was demonstrated to me. They were so proud to have us as guests. They went out and called all their family to come by and were the most gracious hosts imaginable. They were not the least bit self conscious about their homes and we had the most wonderful visits. Reliance on their faith was much more prevalent here with an attendant disconnect between their circumstances and their attitudes. I found myself smiling constantly, playing with the kids and trying to politely decline when they offered us what little food they had. When we were in the streets surrounded by kids I was having a great time lifting them up over my head and tossing them around telling them it was easy because I was “strong like the bull!” Well the next thing you know I had yet another nickname: El Toro. Sigh.

As we were going from house to house we had as our guide the most precocious young man one would likely ever meet. He was like a 12 year old Godfather. This was his neighborhood and everyone knew him and he took it upon himself to be our ambassador for the day. Regrettably I don’t recall his name but he is in the photos.

At our last stop I received the most profound lesson on selfless giving I have ever seen. The home was just full of kids running everywhere and the mother of the house had on an apron and had just finished baking several baskets of small bread loaves. I thought I’d buy a couple of pieces from her for our trip back and that way I could also give her some extra money without it just seeming like charity. Our ambassador informed me she used them to make sandwiches which she would then sell to feed her family. I gave him some money for 2 pieces of bread which he put in a bag but then he came back and told me she would not take any money! After debating the issue and getting nowhere I decided to be sneaky about things. I snuck up and dropped the money in her apron without her noticing it and then set about playing with all the rug rats. It was finally time to leave and I really didn’t want to go but alas we had to. I settled into my seat and went to break out the bread to share with the fellas when I found out I had been out sneaked. In the bag were not the 2 small loaves I thought I had but 5! When I was playing and posing with the kids she had snuck off and added MORE bread to my bag not knowing that she had received anything from me! I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know how the bread even tasted but after telling the guys the story we all agreed it was the best bread ever.

What a lesson this lovely woman had taught us. Namely that a generous spirit is a matter of the heart not of your current economic situation. It has forever changed my perspective on sacrificial giving.

Our last day was spent in Antigua climbing an active volcano (Seriously. We were jumping over lava flows) and shopping for those back home. Plus we got one of the most entertaining episodes of the whole trip and Nate learned a good lesson in humility. Every one of us experienced some level of “intestinal distress” as one typically does in foreign lands except for Nate. Well, on our way to the volcano Nate was capering around laughing at us telling us how good he felt because he had “the stomach of a Rhino”. Apparently God saw a teachable moment and not 10 minutes later Nate started turning green and growing progressively more ill as we ascended the volcano. When we stopped for lunch we all ate save for old Rhino boy who went behind some bushes and yacked loud enough for people back in the states to hear. We all laughed.

As we headed back to the good old US of A we had a lot to think about and some decisions to make about how we would serve going forward utilizing the lessons we learned. For my part I found what I thought was my role in fulfilling “the good works prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” permanently altered. Previously I had felt that my primary role was to be as a financial supporter of ministries with the occasional personal involvement. God calls us all to different roles in service and this is a tremendously important one but after this trip I realize that my role is more to be among the people. I’m kind of excited about this new iteration in service. I believe the next area is back to Africa and I am being drawn to a new ministry called The Last Well. Stay tuned.

Thanks once again to all of you who contributed your prayers, financial support and who donated supplies for the children of Guatemala and for the pleasure of being your representatives in service.