We started the day piling the girls from the Milagro Center, our 13 team members, Jeremy the music director, and Pastora Karen’s family into the bus to drive to Divina El Salvador del Mundo for worship. Their pastor, Pastora Karen, Pastor Jerry, and I led worship. I got to preach the same sermon from earlier at Maya Itza. Then we shared a meal of hot dogs, chips and Rice Krispy treats with the congregation. It was a good morning of worship and fellowship.
We quickly transitioned from Mission Team to tourist mode and drove an hour and a half to Antigua. The rest of the day was spent in leisure activity and a great meal. I stole away and got to sketch.
Here are my reflections from earlier in the day…
There is a certain peace that dwells on the roof of the Lutheran Center here in Guatemala City. It is Sunday morning and I stole away from the team for a few minutes before we head to Salvador del Mundo for worship and fellowship there.
There is a convergence of contrasts in this space. In one sense, this is a peaceful place. The Lutheran Center is a secure compound in the heart of the city. It is a refuge of peace and learning for nine young women who otherwise would have been caught in the perpetual cycle of poverty and patriarchal dominance in which their only value was to produce a son for a man who may or may not love or value her. The Center is a dormitory which provides shelter for the many delegations that visit from the States and for the church leaders of ILAG who gather quarterly for training and encouragement. It is home to Pastora Karen and her extended family as they seek to lead this ministry which is dedicated to serve the lost and forgotten people groups of their beloved country.
This moment is also surrounded by natural beauty. Guatemala is a beautiful country. The landscape was formed by volcanoes erupting from the sea and bursting with a vast array of flora and fauna. I hear the roosters crowing and so many species of birds calling back and forth that I can’t begin to count them. The light of the rising sun warms the Eatern side of everything and casts rich, purple shadows across the landscape.
This moment is also surrounded by the reality of this city and this country. My seat on the flat Spanish rooftop allows me to see across the valley to the ravine that is covered with tin houses which sit in the shadow of modern high-rise condominiums. I hear the sound of cars and buses rushing through the narrow streets, even on a Sunday morning. The footprints of the armed night guard at the door to the Center remind me that crime and violence is an everyday reality for many neighborhoods. The memory of our brothers and sisters in Maya Itza is fresh in my mind as they wake to the sound of howler monkeys and greet another day in which they wonder how they will move forward. I think of the fathers who have sold all that they have and taken a child to the United States on the promise that they will find a better life for their family, only to find that they have been swindled and have lost everything. I think of the government who does not care about the indigenous people and consistently seeks ways to take their land and give it to the big businesses for factories and and profit.
My heart is conflicted in moments like these. It would be easy to romanticize the beauty as I observe it through my lens of White American Male Privilege. It would be just as easy to become overwhelmed by the need and implode with the emotions it evokes deep within my empathetic soul.
Then I think of one image that Royce shared. He has been photographing the children of el Mirador all week. He captured one moment when a beautiful young girl, standing in the midst of clean, well-dressed school children caught his eye. The smile on her face, despite the challenging circumstances of her neighborhood, speak one word to me: Hope.
I think of my young friend Pablo in Maya Itza. He is 20 years old. He has finished high school and wants to become a lawyer to be able to help his community navigate the legal system and stand up for their rights as citizens of Guatemala. The leaders of his church already look to him as a leader. He is the hope of Guatemala.
Peace is a strange word. In Hebrew the word is Shalom. It is not the absence of stress. It is not the emptying of everything. It is the weighty presence of something. It is the presence of God that takes all of these contrasts and transforms them into community. It is the connective tissue of the Spirit that empowers each piece of this diverse tapestry of life to be able to speak truth in love and find a common life in which everyone thrives within their diversity.
I pray for peace for this place. I pray for peace in my home, in my church, in the homes of Maya Itza and el Mirador, for ILAG and for our world.