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Remembering My First Journey to Guatemala

Buses go everywhere in Guatemala.  Yesterday at 2:30 a.m. Brian hopped on a bus to Guatemala City where he will change buses and make his way up north to visit Sinodica projects in extremely rural areas.  At least 15 hours of travel!  He texted me letting me know his heart is breaking again.  He has entered into an area where poverty and malnutrition are prevalent, and there is little education.  This is an area that was hit hard by the war.  I was reminded of my first visit to Guatemala and how my heart was broken, and I was so profoundly impacted by the images I saw.    

The First Journey

In 1999, a group of Presbyterians from inland Northwest Washington visited the Northern region of Guatemala.  Victor, our driver, was cautiously navigating a narrow, terrible dirt road, and climbing up a mountain.  The views were spectacular.  The land was lush, emerald green with sprinkles of pine trees, like home.  Corn was growing straight up the hillside.  How did those farmers even get to their crops?  I have heard Mayans believe we were created from corn.  In the distance, we could see Mexico.  The road was washed out in many places.  One small miss could send us rolling down.  Several times, I wanted the bus to stop so we could take in this panoramic view that the typical gringo tourist would never see.  Balancing a fear of heights with the dazzling vistas was not easy. 

Around the corner, at the top of a mountain was a huge white cross.  Over 1,000 K’ekchi Mayans were murdered there by the military in the 1980s.  That cross is a reminder of Julia Esquivel’s questions to us.  “Why is God’s deepest commandment and desire, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ so violently disregarded in Guatemala?  Why is it necessary to risk our own lives in order to defend human rights?”  During the 1980s when there was a crescendo of violence all over Central America, churches were working alongside, in solidarity with the indigenous, poor and oppressed.  Together, all were risking their lives to stop the violence. 

As we climbed up the hill, a small concrete church appeared.  The community gathered at the doorway of the church, watching, wondering, and waiting for our arrival.  Greetings were warm with friendly smiles.  One little boy ran screaming to his mom.  He probably had never seen a tall blonde North American.   Walking towards the kitchen, with a line of children staring at us, I saw an image that has stayed with me all these years.  A young teenage girl wore a 9 mm cartridge formed into a cross around her neck.  In the kitchen, a few fires were blazing and cooking a variety of foods.  The large cast iron pots were bubbling with black beans, scrambled eggs sizzled in another, and a hot rice drink filled a third.  Women’s hands were permanently flattened by the constant clapping rhythm of patting tortillas.  Language was a barrier, but laughter was not, as some of us tried to follow the technique of making tortillas.  Tortillas were grilled quickly and stacked to stay warm in a cloth-covered basket.  An abundance of food graced the long table as we were escorted by the men to sit, pray, and begin eating.  Women and children stood back and watched with curiosity.  Regularly, the men would motion for them to bring more food.  I felt ashamed as we were served by the women.  I desperately wanted them at the table with us. 

May this story sit with you as Covenant considers another visit to Guatemala.  We will welcome you with open arms, and so will our sisters and brothers here!  We are anxiously preparing for our visit to the U.S. and will see you all in June. 

Your prayers are felt and needed. 

Sandi and Brian Thompson-Royer