Friday, August 17, 2007

September 10, 2006

September 10, 2006
Since I have been home, there is change that has gone underway since I have walked down the streets, through the rooms of home and even in the lives of loved ones, both family and friends alike. I have not been here for four months, and so much, even drastically, has changed. There are new relationships built up within my family unit, the ties between parent and son, that being my brother, are mending and a new dynamic is taking place. Most dramatically are the lives of the people around me, apparently not only my brother, but also close friends that right away I have seen such a clear and vivid renovation, if you will, of their hearts and relationships with Christ. God has done some big things while I have been away, which fits, as he has also done big things within my life. It is a new season.

Within the idea that I almost did not leave Guatemala, the question of did I do the right thing is a constant in the back of my head. Yes, I know I did the right thing, but its as if I have to convince myself every five minutes as the question lingers as I begin to feel more and more that I do not belong in this society. As I continue to wake up every morning and just sob. It is all I can do to not turn around and go right back. I am homesick for Guatemala. At the airport, I had to use the little energy that I did have, as I was completely emotionally drained from having to forcibly put myself on that plane. I feel wretched, but I had to muster up everything inside me to be able to smile when I saw my parents and friends, to act, at least somewhat, that I was glad to be home. Yes, I was glad to see them, but the idea that I was seeing them just told me that I was not in Guatemala with my newly made family and friends.

I am having such a hard time re-entering and just try to be content with being here. To the point that I could not give you answers as to what I have enjoyed the most about being home or for that matter, even the things that have bothered me about being home. I could give you superficial answers, I am sorry but its truth right now, about how it is so good to see my family and to use modern convenience to do things and get places. While it is good to see people, it only reminds me that I cannot see them. Yet, while many things do bother me, nothing even compares slightly to the fact that what really bothers me is that I am not in Machaquilá, Guatemala. I still feel as if I was not ready to come home, but I am somehow here, none of this makes sense to me. It is like one deep lull of depression, that I cannot fight feeling it and watching it slowly take me over.

Since I have been home, I have encountered a series of different emotions. Many emotions of which wrap around this depression that seems to be taking me over. This journey, as I have said before, has engulfed me with a deep passion for right relationship with both God and humanity. While this is not at all my first time encountering injustice, the elements that I took from what I learned and saw, I compiled differently this time as my experience allowed me to do so. For so long, the injustices of this world broke me down so much, that by hearing them and studying them I had somehow become numb. But living with the people, and the intensity of injustice that I saw and heard about affecting the people that I love allowed me to draw something new this time. I feel like my heart has been ravaged all over again. It is as if I feel the rawness of humanity within the rawness of my newly transformed heart.

So much has taken place throughout my journey, there is still so much that is left unsaid and still so much to process. I am here in the States for the time being, while everything inside me is screaming aching to get home to Guatemala. I continue to feel the pains of ‘home-sickness,’ but I guess that is something that is altogether beautiful. I will allow God to continue to ‘prune’ me for what I am to be in life, and I am not ready to say ‘Guatemala or not,’ but it should be true. Guatemala is all I can think about, it has tainted my view of the world and how I see everything in it. I have been taught about the idea that to know someone is to love them. To know their history and culture, power and struggle is something that is absolutely beautiful. There is such an impression that has been left on my now raw and tender heart, praise God that I can feel again. I have enjoyed, very much, having to write, my thoughts, fears, journeys, struggles and triumphs. I am glad to have recorded my journey and to have left God use this as a tool to help me process. I had wanted nothing more than to live the life that I no longer take for granted, to see, hear, taste and smell the richness and extent of God’s creation and beauty. To seek, search and find a part of His character that He left dwelling within a new people. And that is exactly what I did. It is a new season, I will take and walk with all that God has brought to light and taught me.

September 2, 2006

September 2, 2006
I need to be honest, I did not want to come home and in fact, I almost did not, at least for now. I just was not ready to return. Time slipped away from me, and three and a half months was just not enough time to soak everything in. There was still so much that I wanted to learn, that I did not have the opportunity to do. Leaving Guatemala, was forcible, everything in me needed and longed to stay, I had to talk to myself all day and consciously walk myself through the airport and on to the plane when everything in me yearned to just turn around and walk right out. To find a bus and go back; one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do, and now there is a complete void in my heart.

Among many things that I loved about my host culture, three in particular stood out to me: the lifestyle, the relationship and family. The lifestyle is beautiful, it is something that I will continue to hold very dear in my heart as I am allowed to ‘just be,’ and everything that it entails. My lifestyle and priorities have been radically challenged and flipped upside down with the idea of leaving my agenda, that had my whole day planned to the ‘T,’ and to leave it to ‘just be.’ Yet through this remarkable challenge, I have come to prioritize my life, around what is truly important in life and that is right relationship with people and God and not just a checklist of meaningless stuff. Through this transformation and the shedding of years of toil to put my life in ‘right’ order, the Guatemalan value for relationship with both God and family has grabbed hold of me.

Yet, there are many aspects of my host culture that I continue to understand and struggle with seeing as true, good and beautiful. The Church continues to weigh upon my heart; I am still processing many questions that surround my struggle with the Latin American Church. It is a conscious battle for me, one that I feel like I need someone just to sit with me, listen and bounce different ideas back and forth with me, as I sort out the mess of ideas within my head that need mere straightening up. I have made a conscious decision to go seek help in the Counseling Center here at school where I can talk without end and sort out the mess inside my head. Yet, within my struggle with legalism in the church, is also the idea of gossip both in the church and in small communities such as Machaquilá. The pure idea of ceaselessly talking about one another behind their backs eludes me as I still do not see beauty in such a way that this act is glorifying to God or their tightly knit forms of community. I only see it as the Devil out to destroy.

There have however, been things that I do miss about home. But the fact that this takes me awhile to come up with them, shows that these are not really things that I consciously think about. Three of the things that I have missed the most are a hot shower, to converse in depth lengths in English, not to mention praising God through worship in English and in the American Church. A hot shower is self-explanatory, but just like the rest of these ideas, I have learned to deal without. To be able to speak with someone in English and to not have to constantly be challenged for how to rephrase my question or answer to fit into words and phrases that I do know. To be able to sit and talk, without having to always be thinking, would be amazing. However, most of all, being in the American Christian church is one thing that I have greatly missed. I want to shout and scream at the top of my lungs, to go and praise God through dance and song and in other ways of just ‘being’ with God, to be able to do that freely in the Church setting would be absolutely amazing and something I have been dreaming about.

However, within the ideas of what I have missed the least about home culture are an assortment of topics and themes. I know myself, and the fast-paced American lifestyle has always had a tight grip on my life, I often have been known to get addicted to the very idea of stress in my life. I add things on until there is not looking back, there could be some very deep ideas and problems lying in these statements, but I will get to unpacking them later. This is why that as apparently I was supposed to return, I feel God telling me to quite my job, withdraw out of every form of leadership on Campus and ‘just be,’ for one semester. ‘Be’ in the presence of God and ‘be’ with people, with friends and family and rekindle what right relationship should look like. I feel called to just be silent, to sit and listen, something of which, within my whole life I have never taken the time out to do. However, this time I will listen, before God takes all of my ‘extracurricular’ busyness away from me. However, when I thought about going home, nothing inside me gave me the urge to do so. All I could think about was how I was not going to be okay when I returned, I pictured myself clinging to items from Guatemala and sleeping with them and holding them tightly throughout the day. No matter how hard I tried to change this viewpoint, the thought of me being there, only reminded me that I was not going to be here.

All in all, as I look back at all that has been done and said, the transformation that has been brought upon in my life. I see someone different in the mirror. I see someone who has been stripped away of the pure selfishness that had once engulfed me. My hardened heart has been ripped to shreds and somehow God has graced me with the ability to again empathize and to feel. I have encountered so much struggle, hurt and injustice that I had become immune and numb to how they should affect me. I have built relationship both with God and man a priority in my life. I will no longer let myself constantly drown out ‘real life’ if you will. It is a new season, and I will have to accept going home only to continue being ‘pruned’ by God, in hopes of returning ‘home’ soon.

August 18, 2006

Truthfully, it is so hard for me to talk about the things that I will miss the least when I return home from beautiful Guatemala. I wrestle with the idea of telling you, as I do not want you, to be mistaken and not be able to see the even greater side of joy. There is such a struggle, but also a pure beauty that is apart of my life here, they intertwine so that a peace consumes these shambles. Life here sometimes seems like a dream come true, an answer to prayer and everything I had ever wanted for my life. I mean what more could I want, the amazing Latin culture, warmth and love, beautiful people, exquisite food, the most serene river just a walk away, an amazing project with two-hundred and fifty kids that radiate with pure energy and joy, and new families and friends that have taken me in. Of course, when my patience has run out with whatever my struggle is for the day, my sentiments are quite a different, but ultimately life is full of struggles, whether in America or in a foreign land. While most of the struggles I continue to deal with here in Guatemala are wrapped and immersed within the culture of the Latin American Church. Yet, I sit here with a peace that only comes from God, knowing that he placed me here, in Machaquilá, Guatemala and in the Church for a reason, whatever that might be.
The greatest trial I have faced in my time here is that of the legalistic Latin American Evangelical Church and the culture that it entails, through which nearly every one of the struggles I face, are derived from. Imagine being blessed with being able to live with the Juans of the Nazarene Church, and then taking on the responsibilities that come with that opportunity. I am required to attend every service with the utmost respect, properly wearing a longer skirt, with a respectful neat and clean appearance, expected to stand and clap without any other body movement, to participate by leading worship and sitting quietly during every sermon. Monday night is a prayer service, Wednesday and Saturday nights are regular services while each are two or three hours long, and Sunday always consists of Escuela Dominical, a form of Sunday School that lasts for nearly four hours while at night everyone returns for another service. The basic service begins with prayer and an unprepared worship where an elected member invites members of the congregation up to, on the top of their head, lead everyone in songs of worship. Any two that volunteer to take the offering and pray over it then take the offering. While the Pastor follows with his sermon that usually only lasts around fifteen to twenty minutes. Throughout this time, everyone is expected to volunteer and participate, even me.

My struggle and frustration with the Church and its congregation came to me slowly. I believe some of which derived out of my expectations. Without knowing it, I set for myself the anticipation that, as I would be living at the Church and with the Juans that I would somehow experience God in a remarkable way, that I would undoubtedly feel his presence with me and reach and maintain a closer relationship with him. I assumed that I would grow spiritually, I mean attending Church nearly everyday, and being nearly forced to pray, kneeling on that bench for hours upon hours. While I have learned to pray, I am experiencing God in quite different ways. I do not believe I have ever tried harder to seek God and experience him more than I am right now in Guatemala, while I have never felt so alone, discouraged and empty of Spirit. It was as if I am completely dry, filled with nothing and left to wander alone despite my persistent cries for help. I feel almost deserted and desolate, but also in a place where I know that God still reigns and I will continue to praise and worship him in my times of struggle. I continue to look and relate to Psalm 102, where David cries…

LORD, hear my prayer! Listen to my plea! Don't turn away from me in my time of distress. Bend down your ear and answer me quickly when I call to you, for my days disappear like smoke, and my bones burn like red-hot coals. My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite. Because of my groaning, I am reduced to skin and bones. I am like an owl in the desert, like a lonely owl in a far-off wilderness. I lie awake, lonely as a solitary bird on the roof. My enemies taunt me day after day. They mock and curse me. I eat ashes instead of my food. My tears run down into my drink because of your anger and wrath. For you have picked me up and thrown me out. My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering like grass. But you, O LORD, will rule forever. Your fame will endure to every generation. You will arise and have mercy on Jerusalem--- and now is the time to pity her, now is the time you promised to help. For your people love every stone in her walls and show favor even to the dust in her streets. And the nations will tremble before the LORD. The kings of the earth will tremble before his glory. For the LORD will rebuild Jerusalem. He will appear in his glory. He will listen to the prayers of the destitute. He will not reject their pleas. Let this be recorded for future generations, so that a nation yet to be created will praise the LORD. Tell them the LORD looked down from his heavenly sanctuary. He looked to the earth from heaven to hear the groans of the prisoners, to release those condemned to die. And so the LORD's fame will be celebrated in Zion, his praises in Jerusalem, when multitudes gather together and kingdoms come to worship the LORD. He has cut me down in midlife,shortening my days. But I cried to him, "My God, who lives forever, don't take my life while I am still so young! In ages past you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Even they will perish, but you remain forever; they will wear out like old clothing. You will change them like a garment, and they will fade away. But you are always the same; your years never end. The children of your people will live in security. Their children's children will thrive in your presence. (NLT)

Within the Church community, due to culture, I experience the fight for a freedom to worship my God, our God, in ways that I found beneficial, but were culturally unacceptable. As a person who enjoys dancing in the Church during praise and worshiping his name, I struggle with locking my knees and putting a mere clap with my song. I can not dance or feel the rhythm of the music and I am left to sing songs that, I do not always understand or worse I stand, clap and am forced to listen to everyone else belt praises. When I try to put my mind somewhere else, to praise him in English, it just does not seem to work, the loud Spanish voices overcome all train of thought. What would be beneficial for me is to sit in the field in front of the Church or at the river, in silence or in songs of praise, but in solitude with God. I often do this in my free time, but I wrestle with the idea of being in Church that much every week and not gaining nearly anything from it. The congregation is not understanding of my handicap and inability to communicate fluently; that I continue to not understand every word, or even every sermon, I am lucky to get the gist of what is being said. It therefore takes me a long time to catch on to song lyrics, and I am often asked to lead worship and then rudely misunderstood or looked down upon as I try to explain that the language barrier sets a hard bar for me to reach and it takes me awhile to catch on. While many hymns are sung out of a Hymnal, never once has someone offered theirs to me, so that I could sing along for at least just one song. So I continue to sit here, in Church all the time, silent, alone, frustrated and to be honest just plain bored as I fight with how much I should sacrifice to be culturally acceptable.

As to the legalism of the Church, if I did not attend a service, I would be constantly probed for my reasons behind my absence and where I had instead been. If was out with other ‘Non-Evangelicals’ of the community I would be criticized and looked down upon. Living with the Pastors, I knew that whomever I am seen talking with during the day, I would return that night to hear the worst of whomever I was talking to earlier that day. I would be told, even about those who came to the Church, and told all about their sins. I also struggle with not being allowed to go to different community events, at the schools or pageants without being looked down upon by Evangelicals. I am restricted to where I cannot leave the house, to be me and to make friends. I am constantly being watched and judged.

Throughout this time, never once did I feel true warmth of the community of the Church, nor feel comfortable with anyone in the congregation, other than my family, the Pastors. Those whom I did see love and acceptance radiate from, were the ‘Non-Evangelical’ neighbors, whom I was scolded for spending my free time with. So I allowed myself to play with this boundary, I mean how sad and depressing is it that I feel more comfortable and more love from the non-Christians than the Christians do.

There is always the constant always being the center of attention and everyone always worrying about me. I did not come to stand out; I do not like not being allowed to wash the dishes or to help cook or clean. I feel so dependent for everything, like I am such a trouble to have, but they will not let me change that. All I want is to be seen as a local, to walk down the streets without everyone staring, I want to immerse myself to the extent that I am one of them. However, is that ever possible or a reasonable goal? With only three months as a trial, I have not been successful. My skin, clothes and unfamiliar face make me an alien in this land.

I never in fact was tempted to quit. I however have found myself saying that if I ever returned, I would not be able to be where I am now. There is no way that I could handle living with the Pastors, attending every service and living by the repressive rules of the legalistic Latin Evangelical Church, when I have known a different, more free Christian way of life. What I was tempted with was taking myself out of fulfilling the role of the ‘Super Christian’ in the Church, as I am seen as an American Christian and am assumed to be somehow more advanced in my walk with Christ. My actions proved that whether subconsciously or out of direct thought and motive I withdrew. The actions that did flow out of my experience, whether good or bad is that I find myself retreating. In my last month, I have found that I often miss a complete Church service once a week just to do homework, or I show up a little later and sit in the back, rather than the front. I find myself retreating in times of stress and conflict with the views of the Church to the neighbor’s house, who as non-Evangelicals but also believers in Christ allowed me to process bits and pieces of my struggle and confusion of the Church with an intellectual viewpoint.
While part of me feels terrible for slightly withdrawing from Church life, the other part recognizes that I would not have survived this journey, sanely, if I had not. My connection with the neighbors grew to be a deep friendship and understanding that I could not find anywhere else. I found comfort and relief in their house and I often feel as if I can just be myself, I can let my guard down and I am not always being watched and judged with a second eye. As I know, I am frowned upon every time I am found at their house and judged as they are not ‘Evangelicals.’ Therefore, it is then that I do not know if is should have taken that route, and built such a friendship. Nevertheless, the separation between religions, non-Christians and Christians, and denominations hurts my heart, right or wrong, I am still a visitor in their culture and that makes me unsure about my adamant decision to befriend the other and love them despite our differences. Whether I crossed a line, I might not ever know. However, it was the neighbors, through our intellectual talks about the culture, whom taught me to understand, to rearrange their history in my head and apply it to the now.

I am uncertain about how I feel about me finding security outside of the Church, while I was living within the Church and how that must look to outside viewers. I would challenge future sojourners to seek God in every decision, In my case I bended what was culturally acceptable, and one of the extremes of the legalist society of the Church, while it is still not used by everyone. I would go as far as to say that while I believe that God lead me directly to work and stay in the Church, that the Third World’s Evangelical mentality is an extreme for a Western Christian to step into without much ‘real’ warning. I felt completely unprepared to handle this challenge, and I guess that is what happens when you change plans a week before arrival. I believe there is so much to the culture that I would not have experienced through my ‘non-Evangelical’ friends and for that, I am thankful. Nevertheless, I was told during my journey to find the medium “Alas, the challenge to be "in" but not "of" the world. (But we should not judge; most of us in the West are "of" the world and not "in" it.)”

August 11, 2006

A deep look into the world God created, different people, creatures and terrain might lead someone to ponder why God made such an extensive assortment of cultures within each. You might come to believe that each was hand picked to each be given different characteristics of God, to be developed and manifested within each culture and group. The Latin culture clings tightly to various values, truths and traditions.

One of the most distinct values of the Guatemalan culture is the significance found within relationships. The value of people take a place of importance that is rarely seen in other cultures. People’s worth takes the importance off the individual and onto others; a focus is put on unity and community. Family takes priority above all, it is a unified system of love, support, trust and affection. Friends and neighbors hold a special place among the family and often blend into it’s very center. Time to just be with one another is one of the most treasured values. The laid back lifestyle of small town living allows the freedom to sit, relax and talk with family and friends. The value of time is not used with the mentality that time is money, how much one can get done within a set of time. Instead time is valued for its leisure, for the opportunity that one has to share life, talks, joy and community with one another. Food is often used as the center for which to spend time with one another. Both the act of preparation and the act of eating and dining with one another is apart of this form of daily life.

The Indigenous Mayan community plays a large part of nearly everyone’s culture and heritage. The Indigenous hold a true and rich value for people, family and friends. If someone began to plant a milpa, the community automatically joined to assist in the planting of rows of corn. If someone began to cook, food was made to share with the entire community. The entire community acted and continues to hold tightly to the value of unity, and it has played a large influence in the socialization of modern Guatemalans who have fallen out of most Indigenous traditions. All in all, the value of people is one of the most treasured aspects of their community. Unity and community share a large role in the character of God and the mentality and mindset that he calls the Church to use.

The dedication and faithfulness of the people is a value most affluently seen within the Church setting, indifferently both within the Catholic and Evangelical world. There is an incredible faithfulness is attached to very label of an evangelical. Their dedication is seen in their loyalty to the church. While they attend nearly every service and dedicating their lives to the legalistic rules of the church, every thought goes throughout out the day is done so with faithfulness. Through looking at every part of their life through the eyes of the church their dedication to God is seen. In good times and in bad, authenticity of their hearts is seen. Both when there is no food in the house, no clothes to cover their children and nothing more than a roof to cover their heads from the fierce rain but also when there is enough to go around their true dedication is seen. As for me, in times when I have nothing I find it the easiest to be at the feet of Jesus, but at times when I lack nothing I find it the most difficult to be on my knees in prayer. The church prays on their knees, tired and desperate from a long and hard day’s work, they rest their bodies on hard wood benches. Sometimes for hours, they kneel praying and begging God for every need.

Dedication to their family unit is an extravagant value of the Latin culture. The love, support and community found within the family is a direct affect of their utmost loyalty to one another. It is an unmistakable value of their culture. Seen through their close ties, affection and support for one another in all that they do.

The Guatemalan culture holds many truths inside that obscure the direction and decisions that one takes. There is both beauty and unsightly things that come out of the truth that most abide by what it is to have faith like a child, as God calls us. At times, this is good and at times, it is bad. However, because of lack of proper education and the ability to think for oneself many are left with the inability to question. This has dramatic effects within the church, as everyone takes everything the Pastor says as truth. Many refuse to look up and read scripture for themselves and there is little challenging and questioning of what anyone says. Therefore, theology has wide ranges within this culture and there are such drastic differences between many of the churches. Many say that the other Churches are not Christians as they wear pants or play soccer. If the people knew scripture and knew it well, they would understand that different culture adhere to different rules however only God can be the judge of one’s actions and rules.

Traditions is apart of the deep roots of the culture. I have lacked the opportunity to be apart of many of the traditions of the culture as the Evangelical Church claims that many of them are Satanic. However, I have had the opportunity to witness the celebration of the Quinciñera, or the 15th birthday of the girls. It is a once in a lifetime event to have your Quinciñera and it is almost like a wedding. However, it celebrates the coming out of the daughter of the family, from girl to women. In the church, her life is dedicated to God and after a festival takes place with a feast. This is a beautiful and highly important tradition in the Latin culture.

Many other festivals and traditions occupy the year’s calendar in Guatemala. Semana Santa, otherwise known as Holy Week, is one of the largest celebrations in Guatemala. People from all over the world come to Antigua to view the large and extravagant processions. Their processions are miles long, walking on floral streets, carried by men and women of the Catholic Church on shoulder. The floats are some of the best in the world. However, all over Guatemala, the week and its traditions are not taken lightly and with all the community has they use to celebrate this week. Dia de Los Muertos, in October is a huge festival, where all join their loved ones at the cemetery to celebrate their lives, pray over the dead and feast with them, as they bring their favorite foods to the gravesite. During Dia de la Bruja in May, in Machaquilá there is a grand festival where everyone parades around the town to the Catholic Church with a roasted pigs head, and there is a young woman from the community nominated to be the Queen of this grand festival. There are many other festivals and traditions, each depend upon the town and area as to what pertains their community celebrates, what one town might celebrate is not necessarily what the neighboring town celebrates as well.

As Machaquilá in the Petén of Guatemala holds these different values, truths and traditions found within the community, each are expressed differently both revealed and concealed within my home culture. The value of people and relationships in the urban streets of the United States is not usually a major value of the culture. Instead, we build walls, large doors and attach locks to keep out our neighbors. We construct bigger houses to push away our family and put doors on every room to shut out and privatize our lives. We manage our time as if every minute counts; time is money and therefore must be used as such. We spend our time running errands as fast as we can, scurrying through the streets and wasting our time in traffic jams. We have more inhuman contact with computers, digitalized machinery, cars and music than we have with humans.

Our meal times are on the go, very rarely do we have the time to sit as a family and eat dinner together, as there are always more extracurricular activities to add, soccer games to play and Girl Scout meetings to attend. We eat fast food in the car while scurrying to the next event to check of our lists. Rarely is there ever time to dine together unless it is set out on the calendar or made special by a night at the Restaurant.

The dedication and faithfulness of my home culture takes a different route than does the same value in Machaquilá. Dedication and faithfulness takes more of the form of responsibility and often obligation. Faithfulness to God normally takes the form of a very personal and often private relationship with Jesus. It is to him that all is answered, not anyone in the community. If one does not go to church on Sunday, the world does not fall apart and the whole congregation is not all over you. However, by having only to answer to God, this takes a new form of faithfulness as by having to answer to the community converts this faithfulness to a sense of obligation.
In the truths of the community, the greatest differences lie in the education factor. While the people of Guatemala have an extreme lack of education, many in the United States have achieved a much higher education as its accessibility allows. Higher education primarily teaches the principle to independently think and question everything. It is this that reflects the type of church and the type of faith that is carried out. While the Church in the United States is based upon scholarly Juans and a congregation who does not just accept everything they hear, but instead searches out truths for themselves.

Each culture holds beautiful values, truths and traditions while others are little less than beautiful. The one value that I would give anything to apply in my life is the value of family, friends of people in general and relationship in the Latin culture. However, I realize that to gain this, I would be fighting against an entire culture and atmosphere to input this into my lifestyle. The greatest fight would be against the differences in the culture of time. Without time dedicated to one another, and a slow-paced atmosphere, there would be a large hindrance put on the formation of this type of relationship. The entire atmosphere of the culture plays a role in taking in these relationships, I would need to not only change the meaning of time, but also tear down the walls that stand between neighbors and break down the doors within the house.

Intimate relationship and value of people is a beautiful thing, with time and perseverance it might be implemented into a lifestyle in a completely different culture.

August 5, 2006

It is the victories and triumphs of our life that make and establish who we are and what we are to become. Our goals lead us through dark alleys where we must maneuver our way up down and around the unseen hits and blows of what seems to be our enemies. Yet we tread on, fighting the fight, to overcome. Through this passage, we are reassured of our being, of who we are and what we stand for. Often we find or confirm what we live for our passion and our future. Memories ravel themselves with the rest of life, and in certain journeys, rights of passage are earned. For this, life continues to contradict itself and the war of two world’s wages on.

In Guatemala, I must celebrate one victory. It is the beginning of new life and new love, as it is also the end to dreams and fairytales. My visions and dreams of foreign land have been short lived. As a child and throughout my life, I only dreamed of the moments that I would make a home in a distant land. It was there that I knew I would feel truly at peace and alive, with a different people. It never mattered what I would be doing, as long as I was in some way helping in unity with the people in whatever the need was. The possibilities were endless of what I could see myself pursuing, but none of that mattered as long as found a place with the people, and my life was serving our Lord. Life in Guatemala is now real to me, I know their stories and they in tern know my own. My dreams are no longer far fetched; my visions are not only words but also substantive verbs.

Their lives have become reality, their struggle; beauty and celebration are real and alive in my mind. I have come to understand and to live, once unanswerable questions about their culture and lives I once learned and pondered. The people are no longer unfamiliar picture seen in books and films. They are people that have welcomed me into their lives, who I have spent days with passing by. People I have joined to both celebrate and to cry and faces that I have come to know and identify. The children have grabbed my heart and ripped it out; they have turned my life upside down. I join the children in the field to play, at the river to swim, in the street to ride bikes and ‘bailar trompos,’ and am often sought out for help with homework. I attend the church with the women, sing and clap to the same hymns and songs of praise. I often join them at the river to wash laundry by hand or to cook in the kitchen. Frequently I end up sitting outside by hammock delighting in the day’s beauty. I often join the men at the dinner table to chat, I sometimes serve drinks under the hot sun while they are hard at work, and have been known to pick of a shovel and mix cement. I can identify their struggle and celebration, as it one that I too have lived, if only for a short time.

In Machaquilá, I have come to understand many struggles within the home setting. I know the faces of fathers who rape their daughters; I sit next to them in church every Sunday. In fact, he dedicated his new baby girl in Church just two Sundays ago, and yes, the Pastors know. Praise God that his eldest daughter continues to not bear her father’s child, as does another on the outskirts of town. I know the eyes of a brother who rapes his sister. I know a woman who is secretly are unfaithful to their husbands, and prostitutes her body for a higher education. I know a woman who, while her husband was in the United States sending money back home from New York, was enjoying her newfound wealth with another man. Her kids left in the street while she hosted men in her home on fine dining, while her children ate scraps and uncooked food. It is not unfamiliar to find women whose children are by other men and not their husbands. I know a man who has other children by mistresses, and his wife suffers financially as he has begun to support them with their hard-earned money. Most children run around in the streets without the firm hand of their parents needing to know where they are. The family system is a difficult aspect to understand, there seems to be no real patterns within infidelity as unfaithfulness is as prevalent among men as it is among women.

Jobs in Machaquilá leave some families destitute while others are thriving. The fight and struggle for work is constant in this town, as in most of Guatemala. The history and discrimination found within land distribution, has left those working in agriculture to struggle. Farmers and lack of land have put a wedge within families, as it has forced landowners to travel to their land, men often leave home for the month or for the week to work their land. With men out of the house, this creates opportunity for infidelity for either one of the couple.

Lack of a good income further yet allows for the options of unlawful activities such as drug trafficking and robbery to thrive in communities. Murders and violence are especially frequent. Within just the last month, my friends and family here have suffered the lose of so many. Just yesterday both a little girl was hit by a car and died and a friend of the neighbors’ family died by lack of medical attention. The pain that the people experience, I experience with them. Within this last month, two of Miguel’s co-workers have been murdered, a woman in Dolores was severely beaten and left to die, and a man was shot out on the street while riding his Moto. My heartbreaks with them as I watch poverty and violence tear apart families.

Lack of education and good education has forced many to work fields, construction, transportation and education. The school system is made up of Kinder, Primeria, Basico and Diversificado that are very closely modeled after the educational system of the United States. It is Diversificado where a specialization is chosen such as Magisterio for teachers, Inginerio for engineers and so on. Most are trapped into Magisterio for financial and economic reasons, and this is where the cycle of bad education is perpetuated, for lack of passion and training. After nine years of basic education and three years of training as a teacher, they are sent out in the field on their own. Taught by teachers who often barely read at the sought out level of academic performance and care little about formal education the kids leave Basico with little more than the ability to read and write.

There are two types of Churchgoers in Guatemala, Evangelicals and Catholics.
There is a distinct line between the two types of people, if anyone chooses one church over the other, his character is then determined by his decision. The Catholic is almost never considered a Christian; many participate in the things of the world, including many Satanic Festivals. If an Evangelical were to enter the Catholic Church and take communion, it is considered blaspheme to God, along with the other acts of the Church. The Evangelical Church system in Guatemala thrives itself on the legalities of the Christian life. A Christian, more specifically referred to as an Evangelico, is defined by the life he follows and every action he takes is closely perceived and then judged for him. Parties, dancing, drinking, non-Christian music, any association with this type of lifestyle is strictly forbidden. Attendance at nearly every service is the unspoken mandatory for being perceived as a ‘good’ Christian.

I have accustomed myself to all of these things, and it is within this, that my victory is won. My heartaches and breaks with the people, as friendships have been built that will last a lifetime, for all their suffering and pain. I have lived, loved, cried and laughed with the people who have become my family. It is not that I agree with every action and every form of life, especially in my thoughts about the Church. In fact the Church’s legalism, has been my toughest trial, but I have endured the lifestyle. Paul writes in I Corinthians 9:20-21,
When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Gentiles ho do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can. In this was I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ. But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. (NLT)

While I am not bound to the same laws as the Church, I too must conform myself to their standards as to not offend them. However, I will not change scripture or compromise the truth. His concern was to win them for God’s kingdom, nothing more or less than eternal life. It is here that I have found true peace in my suffering; I proceed on obeying the laws of the church, to bear witness to our Savior.
The war between two worlds, my greatest triumph upon my journey, is also my greatest anxiety and heartache. I truly have fallen in love with the beauty of both the people and the land. When I think about the day I have to leave this place and everyday in between, at the very thought my heartaches. My only sense of hope is thinking about the day that I have the chance to return. In the past three months Machaquilá has become apart of me, my home. I have developed deep relationships with the people, both as friends and family. While there have been struggles, there always will be, but the more I come to know these people the more I fell in love with them. My future lays in the hands of God, but until I know my heart will ache as it has been torn in two between a people where I feel I belong, and the other that I have always had my home. I pray my heart will be silenced by time.

July 31, 2006

Words of affirmation and love and indubitable belief in the Creator and his son were always spoken into my life, from both of my parents. Particularly my mother taught me to live by their lives example. The words my mother spoke were consistent with her actions; her life hardly ever was contradictory to the life she claimed. My mother is and was a prime example of what it was to live a life for Christ. Every morning my mother woke up, before anyone else in the house, to meditate and study the Bible. She often taught Bible studies at the Church, and somehow found it in her to see everything in light of the word of God. Right and wrong were nearly always black and white in her sight, as she had grown up in a legalistic Baptist Church. Somehow despite legalism, I learned to study, research and find out for myself what I believed and why. It was the very idea that my mother knew what she believed and where and how to defend her beliefs that taught me to not believe everything I heard.

My parents led by example, I have such vivid memories of the generosity and compassion that flowed from my parents hearts. As a family, we would end up in Queen Creek; we lived in Arizona, many Sunday afternoons at a Migrant workers camp. At the camp, a group of families from our church would meet to serve them a small feast. Every year around Christmas as a family, we would buy thick and cozy blankets and sweatshirts and put them in the trunk of our car. We would drive to downtown Phoenix and hand them out to the people living on the streets. I remember very clearly one Saturday morning that my dad and I woke up around five in the morning to go help out at the food bank together. After working for the morning packing food, we drove through a McDonalds for breakfast. There was a man sitting by the speaker-box, a homeless man, he asked my dad for food or money to buy food, and without a question in his eyes, my dad reached in his wallet and handed him good chunk of money. While I am sure my dad does not remember this moment, it made an everlasting impression on my heart. My dad did not question whether or not he would use the money for drugs or alcohol, he simply gave what he could to the man who was hungry, he fed him. Growing up I was never allowed to say that I was ‘starving,’ if it ever slipped I was quickly hushed with the realization that I had no idea what it was to starve. Children around the world are starving and have not eaten in days or even weeks. These incidents along with many others I learned what it was to have give and have compassion for those truly suffering. If all I have to give is my time and myself, that is worth giving and I learned this from my parents. How better to love somebody than to learn about and know them.

My mother always instilled in me the value of independence. Growing up I was repeatedly told and taught to stand on my own two feet. I was always told that I never needed anyone to complete me other than Christ, not a boyfriend or friend. I had the ability, the mind and the will, to educate, support and provide for myself. Not anyone could complete me or support me but myself and Jesus Christ, a daily theme in my house.

The values and qualities that guide me through this journey have undoubtedly derived from the example and teachings of my parents. My parent’s hearts taught me to feel compassion and love the poor. It is from their guide that I have been given the spiritual gift of mercy. To give and give generously with anything I had. My constant struggle is dealing with the Latin American, legalistic Nazarene Church; it is my love for my mother and her journey of escaping of legalism that has given me patience to tread on. My mother always instilled in me self-dependence and reliance, and a strong belief system. From this, I developed the courage to venture off on my own, to go, to continue to tread on, and to strive to learn and just be with people.

Upon embarking on my journey, I did not have many expectations of where I would find guides and mentors. I only knew that when the time came, God would provide. For some reason, I had the idea that I needed to be apart of a Church. Almost like a dream or vision that God gave me. It was where I would find a safe haven of brothers and sisters in Christ, where I would be able to let my guard down and be accepted without having to prove myself. What was different about this was that my plans had included nothing to do with a Church. I was to be working with a non-religious organization, at Lake Atitlán. However, my plans included this illusion of the need to find a home and place in the local Church. It was in the Church that I knew I had to go to find something, while I did not know what it was that I needed to find.

When I arrived in Guatemala, my insecurities about my previous plans began to unravel. It was then that I began to urgently pray for God to ravel up a new plan, the one he already had prepared. As I expressed my concern to the Pastors of the Nazarene Church in Machaquilá, where my group had been working for the first month, they quickly began to assure me that Lake Atitlán is not where God wanted to use me. We sat and prayed for where God would have me, and they proceeded to assure me that they would continue to pray that God would lead me and help me find my place in Guatemala. Suddenly Hermana Elsy began to throw out all these different ideas. She excitedly expressed great interest in being apart of my journey and immediately decided she would take the role of my mother as I was away from my family. She told me “You can of course live with us and work at our Compassion Project.” Nevertheless, she decided that this was not the best idea, as she recognized that this Project was not well organized and needed a lot of help. She decided that one of the larger, more experienced organizations would be where I could learn the most. She began to throw out all these ideas, “You could of course live with my parents, who have a huge house near Rio Dulce, and work at the orphanage Casa Guatemala. This orphanage hosts street children from all over Guatemala and you would be able to work and live in the dorms it provides or with my parents. There is even a well-known NGO working with Keq’chi’s in Rio Dulce named Ak’Tenamit. Where you could both live and work.” She then offered to look into all of the options, and told me to continue to pray for God’s guidance.

I returned to Antigua with my team and continued to pray. When the team left, I stayed there for a week, began my work and started settling in on what God had for me. After that week, I decided to make my way up to Machaquilá to see the Pastors. I called them to confirm my plans, and Elsy immediately was ready to come and pick me up in the City, a seven-hour ride from the town. I insisted that I would be fine making the trip on my own; it just did not make sense for her to come all the way there only to return. I then, alone, made the trip up to the small town of 4,000. When I arrived there was a complete trip planned to Rio Dulce, a room awaiting me at Elsy’s parents house, and plans to visit the projects. This unexpected help came to me by the grace of God. While none of the organizations worked out and there were huge lacks in communication due to language barriers, Elsy wanted what was best for me. She then invited me to live with her family in Machaquilá and work at the Compassion International Project. This unforeseen help came as quite a pleasant surprise, and while at times it is difficult to live at a church, I know this is where I am supposed to be. Ironically, my prior intuitions about my need to be apart of the Church in Guatemala, had been proven to be helpful visions.

July 19, 2006

I ventured off on this journey with what I thought was a good context and knowledge of Guatemalan life and culture. While I now believe, I began with a good foundation it was only the beginning of a journey whose roads would twist and turn in all directions. What was this simplistic Latin culture, relational and family oriented, hard working but lax with time and machismo and affectionate, hurt and devastated by a 36-year long civil war. Somehow became complex, a people devastated by dictatorship, civil war the CIA, corrupt police, social cleansing groups, struggling with racism and oppression, drug trafficking, deadly violence, robbers, gangs, family struggles, divorce, mistresses and other men, lack of arable land, deforestation, landslides, floods, poverty and devastation. This society somehow developed into something so much more, a complex puzzle that I do not know how or if I will ever be able to solve. The reality of devastation and hurt of these people has slowly crept into my being. A series of events, each I clearly recall, have altered my view.

Within the first few days of arrival, Hermana Elsy took me to San Antonio Seja, a small town just north of Rio Dulce. My previous view of their family and marriage was completely flipped upside-down, while I had it in my mind that everything in Latin culture was weaved around the family…it is not that simple. It is there that I met her whole family, and there were she grew up. The whole family, except Elsy and her younger brother, continues to live in San Antonio Seja with their families. I was welcomed into her parents’ house, and immediately I could feel tension well up inside Elsy. I met her father and whom I later came to know as her stepmother, whom tension and hatred stemmed from, as well as the stepmother’s mother who was also living in the house. We later walked through across the street to visit her brother and sister-in-law and children. We repeated this three more times, as four out of five of her brothers and their families live as neighbors in this small community. While the other, the youngest, is working in Puerto Barrios, only an hour away, for the Municipal.

It was our last visit that I started to feel her hurting heart. It was at the house of her eldest brother, Tomás, who was often like a father to her. The only family that came to her wedding and the only family that has ever visited them in Machaquilá. This grand burly sort of man grandly welcomed us with his fifteen-year-old daughter Celia, who was ecstatic to see her aunt. We proceeded to sit and talk, when her sister-in-law walked in and proceeded directly to the back, where her mother lives, without greeting or making contact with anyone. I saw the hurt in all three of their eyes, especially in the eyes of Celia. Both she and her mother are pure Que’qchi, traje tipica, typical dress and all. I later came to find out that for over fifteen years Celia’s mother has been seeing another man. Elsy has caught her, many times both in this house and in Poptún, the city near Machaquilá, as that is where he lives. The wife has often lied, said she was going to Elsy’s house to visit, and instead goes to Poptún to see him. It is then that she resents Elsy, both for her knowledge and her faith. Both Celia and Tomás do not know, but Celia is not his biological daughter, but rather of the other man.

Later on that evening, after all the brothers were visited, we walked back to her father’s large house. I had to soak it all in, it was such a blessing to be able to meet the whole family and to be welcomed in such a generous manner. Now, as I stared at this house, it was extremely large and kept so many secrets I still had to uncover. The front of the house was used for the father’s large and prosperous business, selling construction supplies. Just behind the shop lay the grand kitchen on the other side of which lay a grand open room where a large dinning table lay. Only up the stairs was a grand patio surrounded by more than eight separate bedrooms and two different bathrooms, unheard of here. The vast wealth of her father was clearly displayed, the fruits of a hard working person.

All of a sudden, Elsy asked me to follow her as she whispered that she wanted me to meet her real mother. I followed her on what I assumed would be a long journey to the outskirts of the town, when we stopped right after her father’s property. Directly behind her father’s expansive building lay a quaint one-bedroom house made of scrap wood. Quietly walking into the house, lit by one light bulb, we sat waiting for her mother’s reaction. The she clearly wore her years upon her face, clearly displaying her age. She wore her poverty with her simple clothes and now simple life; the years had not been kind to her. The one prized possession was her chicken, who sat in a basket near the window. She was old, shaky and seemed disillusioned, it was hard to watch Elsy look at her, as the pain in her heart deepened. I still did not the past, but seeing Elsy’s heart so beaten and tired I could not help but feel the emotional drain of her pain. We only stayed for a few minutes, as one of her brothers entered in his underwear. I could see the embarrassment, disgrace and fear in her eyes. He was completely drunk, like most nights for the past five years; his wife had left him for an opportunity to go to the United States. He immediately wanted to play with his niece Lizbeth who had quietly been with us. He picked her up and took her outside, for a minute they were within view but as soon as they left our sight, it was time to go. I sensed Elsy’s fear for her daughter and quickly said goodbye to her mother, while Elsy’s goodbye was also quite brief, we snatched Lizbeth and walked around to the house.

We snuck back into the house through a side door, and passed through two large business trucks, one of which I later found out was stolen, despite the families money. We wove in and out of the trucks and construction supplies until we reached the stairs. I could feel the pain seep out of her heart; she felt helpless. I followed Elsy into my room where she very quietly told me that when we returned home tomorrow she would tell me the whole story, as we would cause problems in the house if we were to talk about it here.

After we returned home, she told me the whole story, as Elsy told me with tears in her eyes. Her mother had left her father and kids when Elsy was young, for another man in the City. Her father remarried only six months later to a woman who wanted him for his money. Ever since, the stepmother proceeded to hide the wealth and act as if the family had little to nothing, even though the children knew different. The kids often went hungry and never had the clothing, toiletries or school supplies they needed, and resorted to steeling from local stores.

I later heard the story of Miguel's family, who is very poor and had seen the treachery of unfaithfulness. Miguel is the eldest of ten children, who Miguel calls father, is not his biological father as is true for many of the other kids. After Miguel left for Seminary in Guatemala City, his mother unhappy with his choice, decided to leave her father and children for another man. As the eldest, Miguel felt the pressure to return home every weekend to look after and often provide for his brothers and sisters, more than a seven-hour trip. His mother soon returned home, but the other men never faded.

Throughout my time in Machaquilá, the social problem of unfaithfulness in marriage has been revealed to me repeatedly. I want to tell you of just a few, so that you may understand the intensity and density of the situation. I have seen the devastation of an unfaithful spouse, in nearly every family I have met and probed further into their family life. Beginning with Kendi’s parents, the nanny of the house. Kendi has five brothers and sisters, the first two are from her husband, who later left her, and the last three are from another man who is now her boyfriend. The impact of a stepfather in this culture is treacherous, as if a child is not of your own blood, then they are not treated well. Often stepfathers are known to be physically, verbally and sexually abusive to their children. Kendi’s stepfather is suspected, but no evidence can be held against him. Kendi knows her situation, but was blessed to receive a last name that does not submit her to public humiliation. It is Guatemalan tradition that all have two last names, the first from their father and the last from their mother. It is then obvious when a child does not know a father. On a small side note, this is cultural idea that you do not help or treat a child that is not of your blood well, is ultimately, why within country adoption is not accepted by society and therefore usually remains a secret.

In the case of the Hermano, all is well in the house now, but a year ago, there was chaos. After years of marriage, his wife began to see another man. She would even bring him into the house while he was away working. So he decided that he could not put up with it anymore and fled to work in the U.S. in both Texas and New York. This was quite common, but to do so, he stole a large truck with some friends and ventured up through Mexico. During this time of his departure, the mother and fifteen-year-old daughter hosted men in their home, one for each. They were with men, drank and completely neglected the other three younger children who then spent the time in the street in front of the house. He would call the Pastors to check in on his kids, he was there less than a year when the Pastors pleaded him to return, as his children needed him. He finally returned three months after that phone call, to work things out with his wife for his kids. He ended up staying at the Pastors house for two-weeks, often the kids came over to visit and eat family meals with their father. He finally moved back in the house, and began to work on things with his wife. Cindy, their youngest daughter is not his biological daughter, Cindy does not know. He, despite his knowledge, treats her as if she is his own. Things between them are still not perfect, but he is willing to try.

A Hermana and her husband have a two-year-old son whom they adopted together. On and off he leaves her for another woman. He lives with the other woman and sometimes returns home, a year ago, he claimed he would stop, but needed financial help. He had to have three other men with outstanding bank records cosign for a large loan to get him on his feet; the Pastor was one of these men. The other woman is now pregnant and he refuses to leave her as she is carrying his baby. He has now fled to Puerto Barrios with the lady, gotten an apartment and pays all her bills. A week ago, he returned to her, he stays throughout the day, and eats meals with her and and the boy. However, when the sun goes down he returns to his pregnant mistress. Last week there was a huge fight between the couple, he hit her and the Pastors were called to go over and help.

Another aspect in which I have seen take a toll on the community, is its struggle with Drug trafficking. It just so happened that the Family had saved and stored all their newspapers for over two years in their still yet to be redone office. I had been searching through all of the newspapers, every Prensalibre that I could find, starting from most recent and working backward. When I started to notice a pattern, just about every other day was an article about Narcotraffico, or Drug Trafficking in the Petén. As we live in the Petén of Guatemala, this immediately alarmed me, and I proceeded asked them about everything I found.

They told me of the drug trade’s expansive roots, and warned at the dangerousness of talking or expressing interest in the subject. As many in the community are blatantly involved, they would have no problem killing to get rid of anyone who had interests in taking down their prosperous business. Just last year three young teenagers from Machaquilá, involved in the trade, were killed over drug disputes. Many women loose their husbands and children loose their fathers to the violence that comes with the trade. Just last night two large trucks quickly flew down the road well after eleven o’clock; Hermana Elsy looked at me with a scowl and said ‘narcos.’ Every week or so, a helicopter lands across the river at a ‘tomato’ finca. While tomatoes are grown, there so is marijuana, hidden within the bushes. Many men in Machaquilá work in the mountains cutting xate, a Guatemalan plant, for individual sale in the cities. Not all but certainly most, work in trafficking drugs. The xate is used to package, transport and conceal drugs, especially cocaine and marijuana. With this said, drugs and the violence and wreckage they bring are apart of the un-talked about problems of daily life in Machaquilá.

It is at these moments that I received the insight and knowledge, enough to allow me to feel a part of their pain and struggle. This is the daily life and struggle of the people in the Petén of Guatemala. There is the struggle for an ideal romance and family life where all passions are secure in faithfulness. The family struggle added to the struggle for civil peace, and freedom from the violence and brutality of the drug trade. Just these two subjects and my encounters with how greatly effect this community has taken my previous inferences about the simplicity of the culture to be turned upside down. The Guatemalan society is not a culture you can assign absolutes, or simply combine it as the same in all Latin culture. Life here is distinct, different and is made up of many layers that I am still trying to peel back and understand.