Guatemala City is shrinking below and behind us. A thick deck of white clouds obscures the earth below as we hang suspended under a bright blue sky. Our band of travelers—Denise, Deb, Sammy, and I—have completed our time in this beautiful country. It was sad to say goodbye to Pastor Karen, Carinsofia, Marco, Amanda, and Estuardo. We thoroughly enjoyed our time traveling around the country with them in our little red bus.
Our final, official activity was to have a debriefing with Pastor Karen this morning at the Lutheran Center. We discussed the details of the trip and provided feedback. There are many different ways that delegations can experience the partnership with ILAG. Some trips are focused on one community and seek to cultivate deeper relationships with that group of people. There is very little traveling involved in that type of experience. Our trip was on the other end of that spectrum. I called our experience the “sampler platter of Guatemala.” We had a women’s retreat in a local-oriented hotel, visited a remote community, stayed in a fancy tourist-oriented hotel, toured the Mayan ruins, and visited an inner-city community. This required A LOT of traveling. I loved it!
Both types of experiences are valid and important. It was good for me to have the kind of trip we experienced, since I am new to Easter and to my role as the pastoral contact with this partnership. We traveled across more than half of the country. We saw both communities with whom our congregation is partnered. This trip gave me scope and allowed me to connect with Pastor Karen. The next time I come I hope to do a more focused, immersive experience with either Maya Itza or Iglesia Divina.
The discussion around the Women’s Retreat exposed some important aspects of our visit. Denise mentioned how much more open the women are now, compared to how they were a few years ago when she participated in it. It seemed, to Denise, that it was less important for the American women to be there now. The indigenous women seemed more interested in visiting with each rather than trying to interact with us.
I asked if my presence had any impact on the women’s resistance to interact with us during unstructured times, wondering if having both a male and a pastoral presence there created some discomfort for them. Pastor Karen said it was just the opposite. My presence, and my interaction with Pastor Karen as an equal, was huge for the women. It demonstrated to them that women have the right to be equal to men at every level. The fact that Pastor Karen and I stood side by side to preside over communion and shared the role of teacher equally had more impact than I can understand. Pastor Karen’s mother, Esther, sat with us as we discussed this. Even though we could not communicate directly through language I could sense the deep significance this conversation had for her. Esther was a pioneer for women’s rights in Guatemala and it must be gratifying to finally see some hope that women will some day be treated equally in her beloved country.
I think the biggest thing I take away from this trip is what an honor it is to be in partnership with such an amazing leader as Pastor Karen Castillo. She is breaking the mold and forging a new path for the church in Guatemala and the world. Here’s what I saw as I watched her lead our delegation, interact with the members of the communities, and share her story with me during casual conversation (I always ask to hear people’s stories, she didn’t force it on me). She is a natural leader. Her diverse background of earning an MBA, a degree in alternative medicine, growing up as a pastor’s kid working with indigenous people, and theological training allows her to interact adeptly with multiple types of people. She can, on one hand, stand up to the government in advocacy for the poor, while, on the other hand, offer gentle pastoral care to a sick woman in a simple rural house. It was an honor to learn from her.
I also learned that the communities of the ILAG are comprised of indigenous people who have been mistreated by the government, displaced by war and power economics, and are seeking to simply survive in this world. Pastor Karen is showing them that they matter; that women matter; that justice and equality and the Gospel of Jesus Christ matters. I look forward to working with her and learning from her as we move forward in this partnership.
We made our goodbyes and sloughed through one more congested city highway. I am deeply grateful that Easter entrusted this trip to me and allowed me to come. The goal of this trip, for me, was to simply listen, observe, and learn what this partnership entails. We accomplished that goal and so much more.
Now, it is time to re-enter my normal routine. Each experience we have in life adds to the person that God is creating us to be. I am thankful that this experience has been folded into the mix and will forever shape who God is forming me to be.