This is the first chance I have had a decent connection, since leaving Quatemala City! So I will try to catch you all up on events. I will post more pictures when I get a better connection (I spoke too soon, it took another day and another hotel to get enough band width and reliability to get this done.)
I arrived in Guatemala City around noon on Saturday. The flight path took us by the National Palace, pictured in my previous post.
We only stayed in Guatemala City, at Howard Johnsons, until the next morning, and I spent most of the afternoon resting. But I did go to a large mall, Oakland Mall (yep, that’s the name), for dinner. This is an upscale mall with all the fast food restaurants you might (or might not) want in a food court, but we selected a steak house and were pleased with our food. Good steak, and the potatoes and onions were very good also. I had a very refreshing drink made of soda, lemon and salt – not sweet, but very good. The two most noticeable things about the mall were the waterfall and the security. The waterfall was like nothing I’ve seen before. It fell in designs and pictures and words – believe it or not. I first thought it was an optical illusion, but after close inspection I concluded that it was indeed falling in patterns and words. See the video link, if you don’t believe me. The security was everywhere! They were dressed like policeman, like soldiers, like the US Secret Service and even some undercover. Speaking of security, there were 4 security guards at the hotel all the time, all of them carrying shotguns with pistol stocks and wearing paramilitary uniforms. It was the tiniest bit intimidating.
We left Guatemala City around 9 am on Sunday, and drove to Salama, and the pleasant hotel with the lovely courtyard pictured below. It was POURING rain, during a violent thunderstorm, when I took that picture. You can see the rain pouring down, if you look closely. A quick comment about the food at the hotel restaurant – their refried black beans are better than Chino Bandino’s, and that’s saying something!
We visited a local church for their evening service, where the pastor from our church in Salem, Justin Greene, spoke. He was assisted by an amazing translator (my roommate Saturday night), who copied Justin’s tone, inflection and gestures. It was a pleasure to watch.
During the worship service beforehand, the whole church was animated, and on their feet the whole time. The worship leader is a dynamic young man, who inspired the congregation. In front of the congregation – between the congregation and the band – were 4 tambourine girls, about 12 – 14. That was fun. We found out later that the crowd that night was from 5 different churches in town. As Americans, our visits are much anticipated by these folks, and they are very excited to see us (more about this, further on). It was moving to watch the joy and the enthusiasm and the participation of the folks at the service. My church, Salem Heights, is a very joyous group, but this church in Salama was positively exuberant! These folks have so little, by our standards, but they each personified a “joyful countenance”.
When we returned to the hotel, we discovered that the storm had knocked out the power (and the internet), and we were running on a generator – which shut down at about 10:30. I have a serious apnea problem, and am virtually unable to sleep without my CPAP – which, coincidently, runs on electricity! I went to the guard shack at the entrance, and spoke to the guard there in my best Spanish (which is pretty rough). I was able to convey my problem, barely. The sentry told me to follow him to talk to his boss. The boss told us that he only had enough fuel for 3 or 4 hours…then I remembered that I could use a 12 volt battery, thanks to a direct connection fabricated by my friend, Don Carrico. The sentry and his boss conversed for a few moments, they told me they would take care of it, and I could go back to my room. I decided to sit on the veranda outside my room door to wait for the sentry to deliver the battery. In a few moments the generator and the lights came back on – which made me wonder. Did they find more fuel, was there a misunderstanding, or was I only going to get 3 hours of sleep? I walked back out to the guard shack. There, under the hotel porte cochere, was a pickup with the hood up, and both men working to take out the battery! They had to turn on the generator in order to have light to work. I was overwhelmed by their effort for a stranger and a foreigner. The next morning, there was a knock on the door…fortunately I was well awake, because they needed the battery in order to move the pickup.
Monday the group I was with went to visit a school nearby. Most rural children here only attend school through 6th grade. We went to greet the children, share a little bit of the Gospel story with them, and just spend some time singing songs and playing some games while we were there. Our stage was a veranda that opened onto a large plaza. All the children carried their chairs and desks out into the packed dirt plaza for the assembly. Many of the 250 or so children were part of the Compassion Center here. Several of the people on this trip sponsor children, financially, through the Compassion Center, and this trip was born from their desire to visit their sponsored children. Most of them also expressed their desire to follow Christ – and I had very mixed emotions during this time (more about this later, also).
In the afternoon we went to another school, and I was troubled with the same thoughts as before. Throughout the day, Pastor Justin was conducting a pastors’ conference, and the medical team was holding a clinic for the people of Salama. (More about the pastors’ conference later)
This morning, I helped administer fluoride treatments at the first school we went to yesterday. Many of the children recognized me, and we reviewed the short lesson I taught them from our previous meeting. Their responses were immediate, exuberant (shouted) and correct! It was obvious from their answers that many of them has some Christian training – so I was heartened (especially after my talk with Pastor Justin last night – more about that later).
This afternoon we went to the Compassion Center. Sponsors were able to spend time with their sponsored children. It was a touching afternoon. We had lunch with the children, and played with them, sang with them and did some crafts with them – I was on the play group, so I spend the afternoon kicking soccer balls, encouraging little girls to try the hula hoops, blowing bubbles and throwing Frisbees. As I was picking up trash after lunch, I noticed that most of the children had kept some food for later in the little serving boxes we handed out. So I joked with one little boy, reaching for his box and saying, “Yo tengo much hambre.” He quickly pulled his box back and shook his head, as I had expected…but the little boy behind him, silently handed me his lunch box – it tore my heart out of my chest, and I could barely tell him “no, esta bien, muchas gracias”.
It’s now later. After dinner last night, I spoke with Pastor Justin about what was bothering me. I felt like a hit-and-run visitor; meeting the children, telling them the Gospel story, and then flying home. I feel like we have a responsibility to not only tell them about the Glory of our God, but to also make sure that they are nurtured, to solidify them in faith. Justin calmed my concerns, in three ways. First, he reminded me that God sees every one of those tender, little hearts – and He loves them more than we can. Next, he told me that the purpose of his conference was to make the local pastors aware of those children, and to mentor the pastors in nurturing those little ones. He told me that they were all eager to follow up, meet those children, and help them grow in Christ. Finally, he told me that Salem Heights Church creates ongoing relationship in the areas where they send mission teams. We will be coming back here, maybe as soon as next year. Between now and our next trip, he will be in regular contact with the pastors in his conference. My job is to use the opportunity to plant a seed. Because I am an American, they are EAGER to hear what I have to say…and if God can use me to plant that seed, His work is marching forward.