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Guatemala Day 8: In the City

The emerald mountains of Guatemala run crimson for me right now. We have been riding in our bus for twelve hours. A couple hours ago Pastor Karen offered a book to me. It is titled Testimony: Death of a Guatemalan Village by Victor Perera and runs about 100 pages. I just finished it and a stark cloud of reality has cast a different light over my experience of this past week.

Be warned. Do not read this book if you can’t handle graphic violence and horrible language.

This is a first hand account of a hellish experience that occurred in the Fall of 1982, during the Civil War in Guatemala. Victor was a warm-hearted public school teacher who taught elementary children in a small village, much like the one we visited. The army forced the men of the village to form a civil patrol to protect against Guerillas. One day the army approached the village, the civil patrol mistook them for guerillas and attacked, then all Hell broke loose. Victor witnessed brutal tortures and executions. He was arrested and tortured as well. He was released, but forced to be an informant. The pressure of this got too great and he fled his beloved country. The irony of this story is that the soldiers who tortured the indigenous people were also indigenous people who had been forced to fight. The corruption and brutality of the fighting was unimaginable.

I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs, so I tend to absorb people’s emotions. This book was very difficult to read, yet, as I was reading I knew that it was an important reality that I needed. Harsh tales of complex realities like these necessarily pop my idealistic, romantic flights of fancy. Pastor Karen gave me the book to help me understand why the people of the village find it so hard to trust. I can’t imagine war of any kind. I have lived such a sheltered life. I can understand why men I have known who survived World War II were not willing to discuss it with me. The brutal reality is just too much for the human heart to relive.

I’m sure I will be processing this for a while. We are still driving in the bus. It has been 12.5 hours. I’m calming down a little. We are scheduled to have dinner with a congregation in the city tonight. I hope I will be able to report with a lighter mood as I continue today’s post…

This drive took us 14 hours.

It is now 10:30pm. We spent about 14 hours in the bus today. We sat on the highway for a total of four hours at two different points. The first jam was because of a big 18-wheeler accident. The second was from road construction in the mountains. We had about 45 minutes to unwind before it was time to meet the congregation in the city.

Estuardo drove Pastor Karen, Denise, and me to the Iglesia Divina Salvador del Mundo. This church was founded 30 years ago when a group of people from the country migrated to the city because of the war. They occupied an empty ravine and build a neighborhood. ILAG connected with them many years ago and has built a strong partnership. The neighborhood is a winding maze of narrow streets, tin houses, and struggles with poverty, gangs, drugs, and violence.

We entered the fellowship building and a group of people greeted us with warm smiles and Pache con pollo y pan dulce (mashed potatoes with chicken and sweet bread). It was delicioso! I visited with two of the men for quite a while and learned about their families and their work. They were very gracious to let me practice a little Spanish with them. Edgar is a high school math teacher and Pedro is a welder. He does beautiful work.

Pastor Karen gave us a tour of the school. There are 92 children from K-6 in four small classrooms and a tiny courtyard. I can imagine that it gets very loud inside those block and stucco walls.

We ended up inside the church building. On the walk to the building, Pastor Karen explained that the land on which these structures are built is in grave danger of sliding down the hillside. The government has already come to tell the people that they have to move. Two years ago there was a mudslide just like this and many people died. The church and the school and the 250 who live there are in great danger. We gathered in a circle, held hands, and I prayed for their safety and the wisdom to know what to do. This is a very serious problem with very few solutions apparent.

Denise presented the gifts of letters and snowflake ornaments to each family. These were gifts from the children of Easter. The gifts were received with great appreciateion and the people marveled when I tried to explain snow to them. The visit was far too short, but we were exhausted from the travel. It was time to leave.

Iglesia Divina Salvador del Mundo

Now I am back in my room at the Lutheran Center, amazed that the trip is over. Tomorrow morning we will debrief with Pastor Karen and leave for the airport at 10:00am. We are scheduled to land in Minnesota at 10:45pm. Another 13 hour day of traveling! Woo-hoo!

I will write one more post during our layover in Houston.

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