I’m sitting in the bus on Friday, August 23, finally able to stop and reflect on all that happened yesterday. We have ten hour drive, so there is plenty of time. A quick funny story about today’s bus ride before I reflect on yesterday. The road leading in and out of Maya Itza is so bumpy that my Apple Watch gave me credit for closing my exercise ring for simply laying in the bus for half and hour!
The days in Guatemala are almost exactly divided between twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. I got out of bed just before the sunrise and was greeted by the strangest thing. An eerie grinding/growling sound emanated from the jungle. It felt like a scene from Jurassic Park. The only other time I have heard a sound like this was from the dinosaurs in the movies. I kept waiting for a velociraptor to jump out of the thick trees and rip off my head. Pastora Karen laughed so hard when we told her that. She said, “Oh, those are only howler monkeys. Would you like to see some?”
Rest assured, a howler monkey’s bark is worse than it’s bite (learn about howler monkeys). We walked about a quarter mile and stood under the large tree where several of them were welcoming the new sun with deep, guttural moans. Who knew.
Our team of six had a wonderful day. We divided into three groups with three very different activities. The day was divided into four basic parts. First, we worked from 8-11am. Second, we ate lunch and had a siesta from 12-3, when it was the hottest. Third, we worked again from 3-6pm when the sun sets and there is not light to work. Fourth, we ate dinner then had a men’s Bible study and a women’s bible study simultaneously. T.Y. Shared his story and the men sang together. It was very cool, even though it was very hot.
The first team had three men: Robert, T.Y., and Jeremy. They headed up to the worksite to pour a concrete floor with the men of the village. The Maya Itza men are brilliant craftsmen and can do things with a machete and a chain saw that seem humanly impossible. However, they have never worked with concrete. Robert, our expert concrete man, was able to show them how to pour the floor through Jeremy’s translation skills. By the end of the day they had successfully poured two large squares, which is roughly 20% of the total floor. More importantly, the men of the congregation now have a new skill and hope to complete the floor project over the next ten days.
The work was very difficult. They had to carry the water up from the village below and hand mix the concrete in wheelbarrows. At one point in the project the men said, “We are out of water.” Fortunately, Sue was visiting the site at that moment and had heard some of the women talk about having to go to the river to fetch water. Robert asked the men if they could do that, and all was rescued.
Here’s the down side of the story. It was 104 degrees and 95% humidity. All three of the guys were completely exhausted at the end of the day. Robert came very close to heat stroke, but he knows his body and trade well and was able to rest before he completely collapsed. He is very tired today, but on the mend. He has done a great thing for this church.
The second team, Sue and Jerry, spend the first shift making pastoral calls with me and Pastora Karen. We visited two different homes and spent the whole time listening to stories, eating food set before us and praying together. FYI, Ayote is delicious. It is like a pumpkin. The women were boiling it in one of the homes when we arrived. We stayed long enough to get some hot off the stove. YUMMY. The other house we visited had a pet deer. We got to pet her. It was so cool.
The four of us ended our first shift visiting the elementary school across the street from Mario’s house. Pastora Karen had never been there before. The principal was very welcoming to us. We learned a great deal about the school and the educational system of the village. There are 244 students in the school, grades K-6. The average class size of graduating high school seniors is 15. You do the math. The school is understaffed and have almost no resources.
I asked the principal where she was trained to be a teacher. She told us that she was a child when the village was created after the war. (Remember that Maya Itza is not a place where anyone has ancestral roots. It is a settlement that was created 25 years ago to relocate the refugees who fled to Mexico to escape the horrors of the Civil War). An organization was formed to offer education to the young people of the village who were interested in staying in the village to be teachers. The organization trained them and placed them in their own village. It was a very good opportunity to jump start the educational system in the newly formed village. That organization no longer exists and the opportunities to shape the next generation of educators and leaders is very slim. ILAG hopes to be able to partner with the school to provide more support for the children.
Jerry and Sue broke off from Pastoral Care in the second shift and led the children of the church in a series of activities. They made bead art, sang songs, heard a Bible Story and played games. The children especially liked the brightly colored beach ball we brought. Pastora Karen hopes that the church will learn to develop a strong children’s Sunday School program.
We all gathered for lunch and shared our stories of the morning before Siesta. I took the opportunity to sneak away during siesta and do a quick sketch of Mario’s house in gouache paint. This was our home for the two nights we stayed in the village. There was a shelter across the street that offered the perfect shade for the project. I attracted a little audience and had five men sitting behind by the end of the sketch. It was really fun.
Pastora Karen invited me to join her on another pastoral care call during the second shift. We spent time at the home of a newly formed couple and talked about the complexities of their relationship. I have learned so much about pastoral care from Pastora Karen in the two times that I have visited this village with her. She demonstrates the right balance between peaceful presence and wise instruction.
We shared dinner together, the Bible studies I mentioned before, and then a quick time of wrap up and devo as a team.
It was a full and wonderful day. I reflect more on it and the things we learned over the next coupled entries.