Friday, June 22, 2012

My Visit to Pacux

"The voice of the grandchildren and children will never forget the terror".
I ended my last post mentioning that many of the challenges and deep rooted problems in the lives of many people in Guatemala are caused by their upbringing and the social-political context. One of example of that is the settlement of Pacux a small community on the outskirts of Rabinal.  Rabinal is the next major town over from Cubulco (13 km), and is a town with a violent past. Although we lived so close to Rabinal and had heard a little of the history of the town, we never really looked into the violent history until recently. Rabinal is a town with many social problems and these problems are largely a result of the civil war in Guatemala. Even though we did not live in Rabinal, over the years we got to know a number of people who live there since it was/is a town we pass through every time we go to the city or go to Cubulco. Through them and their personal tragedies we were made more aware of the issues that this town faces. One of the people we got to know quite well owned a grocery store.  Several years ago one of the local gangs started extorting them for money. Since the owners refused to pay, the leader of the gang walked into the store one day and shot the owner in head and killed him. Recently the same gang killed the armed guard of the store. This incident is not isolated and almost daily people are murdered in cold blood. One of the latest victims (a woman) was gunned down in the middle of the day and the wall of the cemetery bears her bloody hand print.
Last year we found out that a single American missionary woman (Mary Purvis) had recently moved to Rabinal and was working in Pacux. We contacted her and since then have become good acquaintances. During my recent trip to Cubulco I visited Mary in Pacux together with the director of the Cubulco hospital to see how the hospital can assist them in their nutritional program. The initial plan was just to meet with her briefly and look at her project, but in the end we were asked to be part of a meeting with community leaders and give them advice on how to best run a nutritional program and how to select the children. It was an interesting meeting and a privilege to be a part of it although just momentarily.
Because of my visit to Pacux, I decided to do some more research on the violent past of Rabinal. I had always been aware of one of the massacres that took place in which several hundred people were killed.  However, since then I discovered that there were numerous massacres and that close to 5,000 people where killed. Many of the massacres were motivated politically because certain people in power wanted to construct a hydro electric dam on the Rio Negro also known as the Rio Chixoy. To compensate the people they were offered something of equal or greater value. When the people went to look at their new land they realized that the plots were very small and not worth what they were supposed to give up. The people who lived in the proposed affected area refused to move and as a result the government resorted to intimidation. Later on, this intimidation resulted in the murders of leaders and then the massacres of entire communities. In one of the communities called Rio Negro around 444 of the 800 people living there were murdered. Eventually the people all fled and the government could carry on with the building of the dam. The people who fled had no choice but to settle in Pacux and live on small plots of lands (10-30 meters). Several years ago some of the people who carried out the massacre were tried and convicted, but the ones who were really responsible and masterminded the whole thing (certain people in the army, government, hydro company)  have never been arrested nor accused. All of this has created resentment within the people and this resentment often comes out through violence. Many young people have grown up with this resentment and now turn to gangs to give them "purpose" in life. Also many young people have grown up without a father since many fathers were murdered. This also creates huge social problems and hence the problem of gangs. This has been a reality in many places in Guatemala as there were many massacres during the civil war mostly directed at indigenous people. There is a lot of resentment built up in the lives of many people and because of that people are mistrusting and suspicious. This of course affects the church as well since the relationships within the church are often very fragile and gossip is rampant. Although Cubulco did not experience any massacres people did lose their lives during the civil war and some people in the aldeas (like Chirramos and Patuy) were misplaced because of the Chixoy hydro-electric dam.and the compensation package was never fully given. Ironically enough, many of the communities that were started as a result of the flooding of the valley for the hydro-electric dam, do not have electricity. Would you not resent that, let alone the host of other things?
It is important to understand all of this when working in Guatemala. Understanding this also allows you to be more patient and gracious with the people as they struggle with their baggage and "demons". It is also enforces the idea that only the Gospel can bring about change, forgiveness and healing. My purpose for writing all of this is not to judge who is responsible for the violence. It is more to help you, the reader, understand a little more what deep rooted problems and challenges we face working in Guatemala which is a direct result of 35 year civil war. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories and unfathomable how low humanity can stoop with regards to treating fellow human beings who bear the image of God. Humanity, in many cases, acts worse than animals. When seeing all of this one can see Satan's hand in all of this as he goes out looking to destroy the bearers of the image of God. That is what Satan delights in and that is why he wages war against humankind. Thankfully, the power and grace of God is able to overcome all of this and bring about eternal change even in the lives of those who are responsible. Only this power and grace of God can bring about a true and lasting change in Guatemala.  Therefore, I ask you to pray fervently for Guatemala and other countries that have been ravaged by civil war and hatred. Pray especially for the church and her witness in such difficult circumstances. Pray that the church will be an agent of change and healing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Cubulco Church

During my latest visit to Cubulco I was able to spend a considerable amount of time with the church and the pastor. I enjoyed being involved in the different activities that the church had during the week that we were there.
On Monday morning the church was responsible for the devotional time at the hospital in the morning. We sang a few songs and then shared a portion from God's Word with the people that were waiting to be seen by the doctors. Around 40-50 people were there and it was a privilege to be able to share the Gospel with these people. In previous years the hospital invited the different churches to do devotions only during the visit of surgical teams from North America. However, since recently the hospital has asked the churches to be involved more in sharing the Gospel and visiting the in-patients. Sadly to say most of the churches have not responded to this invitation since many churches do not have the practice or custom of visiting the sick in the hospital. Thankfully, the Reformed church of Cubulco through Pastor Edgar Xicara has answered the call and is regularly and faithfully visiting the sick every Thursday. Pastor Xicara has experience with this kind of ministry as he was involved in visiting the sick in the hospital in the city when he attended the Presbyterian church there. 
On Wednesday and Thursday, as you already know from my previous post, Pastor Xicara and I were in the mountains visiting the church in Los Pajales.
On Saturday afternoon at 5:00pm we had a prayer meeting the home of a young couple, This couple is once again faithfully attending church thanks to the pastoral visits of Pastor Xicara. One of the things I did after coming back from our year in Canada was make a list of the people who attended church while we were still living in Cubulco and who were no longer attending. I had asked the leaders of the church to make one, but for some reason they left out a lot of people. I also went around with Pastor Xicara and visited some of the homes and introduced him to these former members. Often the introduction was on the street as we ran into former members. Pastor Edgar since that time has gone and visited many of the people and some have returned.  David and Lina where one of those that have returned and have involved themselves once again in the church. The prayer meeting was at their house and after a time of singing and listening to a meditation from God's word we prayed in a circle with each person taking a turn. One of the neat things that Pastor Xicara does is keep a record of the prayer requests. After several weeks he reads the requests out and discuss how God has or has not answered the request. This is a practical way in which one can keep track of God's answers to prayer.
After the prayer service we went and visited a member who had strayed for several years away from the Lord. This man has been an alcoholic for many years and for a time while he attended our church he was able to stay sober. However, he fell back into it and stopped coming to church. I visited his home several months ago with Pastor Edgar, but only his wife was home. To my surprise Pastor Edgar some how got in touch with him and has been visiting him regularly several times a week and praying with him so that through the power of the Spirit he is able to overcome this vice in his life. For me it was nice to sit down with the family and pray with them. I also felt a little guilty since I feel I did not do enough "pastorally" when he stopped coming to church around 5 years ago. 
On Sunday we had the privilege of worshiping with the believers. We had Sunday school from 9:30-10:30 and then the worship service from 10:30-12:00. We commemorated the death and resurrection of our Saviour through the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was good to see that many participated. It was also good to see that there has been some growth in the church. Around four families have been added to the church most of which used to be members in the past. There are also a number of children who are attending church thanks to the witness of the learning center. 5 of these children have expressed a desire to be baptized and are currently in the process of being prepared for that step in their lives. It is beautiful to see the Spirit of the Lord moving and seeing fruit on our labours.
On Monday, Pastor Xicara left early to go to the city to be with his wife (Ericka) who had just lost her aunt. Ericka had been very close to this aunt as she had been her second mother and had raised her for part of her life. Our family also prepared to go back to the city, but before we could go I received a frantic phone call from a widow in the church whose 15 year old daughter had just run away with her boyfriend. She was worried since she did not know where she was and she was also deeply disappointed and troubled that her daughter would do such a thing. We postponed our trip by a few hours in order to be able to visit the family, listen to them, pray with them, and give them Biblical counsel. Although this was a difficult moment I was thankful to be able to be there. The beautiful thing about being part of a church is that we do not only share in each others joys and triumphs, but also share each others pain, burdens and failures.
In closing I would encourage those who read this blog to keep the Cubulco church in your prayers, as well as Pastor Xicara and the leaders. There are many challenges and many deep rooted problems. Many members of the church have a lot of baggage and this is often due to their upbringing, cultural norms, and social-political context. I do not blame them since they often do not know any better. It makes me also reflect on my upbringing and how blessed I am for this upbringing. It is a tremendous blessing to be raised on Christian principle and with Christian ethics and also live in a country that was founded on many of these principles!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Video Clips of Trip to Pajales

Here are a number of video clips of the trip to Los Pajales. Although the quality is not good I do hope it will give you an idea of what the trip is like.

Trip to Los Pajales

One of my goals for this year is to visit most of the churches that we have in the aldeas (mountain villages) at least once if not twice.  I have been to several of the closer ones a few times already, but have not been able to make it to the furthest away ones. This past week I finally had a few days to be able to visit some of these churches.  My plan was to go to Xeul on Tuesday and then to Los Pajales on Wednesday. Xeul is roughly a 3.5-4 hour hike without stopping for rest while Los Pajales is a 2.5-3 hour hike. You can hike it quicker if you do not plan on spending the night anywhere, but for overnight trips it takes longer because of the extra things you need to carry like a sleeping bag, food, and extra clothes. 
Tuesday morning we were all ready to leave when we received a phone call cancelling the trip because of the swollen river in Chitomax. Chitomax is a small community at the end of the road where the 276 meter suspension bridge used to be that was built by the mission and missionary pastor Ken Herfst. This bridge was destroyed 2 years ago during tropical storm Agatha and since then the only way across is on a small flat-bottom boat.  It had rained exceptionally hard the previous night so the water levels rose substantially as well as the volume of water coming down. No one was crossing so we had to cancel the trip to Xeul.  On Wednesday, however, we were able to cross the still swollen river and hike to Los Pajales. I was accompanied by Pastor Edgar Xicara, my son Nico, and David Manring a medical student who is doing his practicum at the hospital in Cubulco.  We left at 7:00 am and drove 45 minutes to Chitomax. From there we crossed the river, and hiked (mostly uphill) for 3 hours to Los Pajales. We took our time and rested a few times along the way and arrived in Pajales just before lunch time. Although we left fairly early it was quite warm as temperatures surpassed 30 Celsius. Also because of the recent rains it was very humid and we were drenched in our own sweat. 
After lunch we went to the local river to cool off and wash the sweat off. At around 4:30 we held a service in the church and also celebrated communion. One of the good things of having a Guatemalan pastor who visits the churches regularly is that the Lord's Supper is celebrated quite regularly. This was not always the case in the past especially when there was no pastor for a number of years and I believe that also contributes to a weak church. After communion the church also celebrated the giving of the first fruits by the woman of the church. Apparently the men had done something a few weeks earlier and now it was the turn of the women. It was an interesting experience as the women brought piglets and chickens. Thankfully, they took the piglets out of the church shortly afterwards since they were a little noisy. Seeing this makes me wonder what it would have looked like in the Old Testament times as the Israelites brought animals and produce to the temple. It must have been quite a sight. One of the things I have noticed working in Guatemala is that the OT and many of the laws is in many instances much more relevant to the people here. 
After the service we were served a delicious chicken soup with tortillas. We spent some time chatting with some of the members of the church and then bedded down for the night. We slept in the church on the benches. It was not too comfortable and I can not say I slept great, but was able to get some sleep. The following morning we had breakfast (fried egg with tomato and tortillas) and after spending some more time talking we returned to Cubulco over the same trail we came in. 
We arrived back in Cubulco at around 1:00 pm where we could shower up and get into some fresh clothes. The next day, all of us started to feel a little off in our stomachs. It appeared that we came back from Los Pajales with unwelcome company. My son Nico, became quite ill with fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. I felt a little off, but it was nothing serious. Since Nico was in bed all day not wanting to eat, I decided to take him to the hospital to get him checked out. I decided to have myself check out as well and sure enough we both had picked up amoebas. Amoebas do a number on your digestive tract and can be quite painful, but with the right potent medicine it can be cleared up quickly. People often say that we should not expose ourselves to these kinds of things, but we feel that it would be rude to refuse food that the people offer us and have lovingly prepared for us.  
For me the trip was good though and I was glad I had the opportunity to visit one of the farthest communities and do one of the more difficult hikes. The last time I had been in Pajales was over 3 years ago and it was good for me to see that the people are following God faithfully and that the same people are still there. Please pray for the churches in the aldeas and for the ones that lead the church. There are many challenges and obstacles in the rural areas.

I tried to "film" part of the trip on my camera and I will place the videos in the next post.  The quality of course is not great and is a little shaky especially the clips when I am walking. However, it will give you a general idea of the scenery and what the trip was like.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Meeting with Translation and Education Teams

Clockwise: Celestino, Jorge (linguist), Magdalena, Maria, Victoriano (2 promoters are missing).
 Last week we spent a little over a week in Cubulco as a family since the kids are done school for the year.  The trip was good although there were several challenges along the way and it is always busy.  One of the first things I did was meet with the translation department to see how they are doing and if they are on schedule.  The meeting lasted for over 2 hours and it was good to hear that the work is progressing. Some of the translators had recently attended a workshop put on by the Guatemalan Bible Society which was on the use of the latest version of the Bible translation software Paratext. This new version will be installed on each of the office computers soon. This software is excellent and it has cut down the translation time substantially. The only complaint I have is, "why did we not have it earlier"! Regardless, the software will save us several years of work even at this stage and will also ensure a better quality product. The software picks up inconsistencies in translation as well as mistakes in grammar, spelling, and syntax. It also compiles lists of words which helps in making a dictionary, as well as does much of the back translation. Another thing is that back ups are automatically made and stored on a server which provides better security for the work that has been done. I am grateful to Wycliffe for coming up with this software that has revolutionized Bible translation. This software will allow translators to complete Bible translations in much less time which in turn will mean that the investment needed for this work will be much less. Please pray for the translation team and project.
Back Row: Vilma (Director), Arturo, Gloria, Lucero, Alex. Front Row: Juan, Salvador, Rosendo, Mario. (2 teachers are missing)

I also met with the education team for several hours to discuss their work and to also explain to them how things will change somewhat next year when AMG takes over the project.  Each teacher was asked to share a little about their work: their successes and their difficulties. In many cases the success of the program is the spiritual part as the teachers share with the children stories from the Bible. Their main difficulties are with parents who often do not or do not know how to support their children's education. In general (with a few exceptions) I am quite happy with the work of our teachers, especially the ones who work out in the aldeas. It can often be challenging working there as the communities are isolated, hiking is difficult, living conditions are not great, and the people are often more closed minded. Nevertheless they go out every week and do their job. I ask that you pray for the teachers and for their witness.   

Friday, June 1, 2012

Workshops with the Anderson's

Timothy and Lynn Anderson
For almost 2 years I have been working with a missionary at AMG named Dan Anderson.  Dan has been working in Guatemala for around 12 years just like ourselves.  However, he joined AMG shortly after we joined and he serves as national pastor for the organization.  Dan is a MK (missionary kid) from Colombia and worked there for a number of years as pastor and missionary. He is a third generation missionary as his grandparents went to Colombia to serve as a missionary in 1937. They worked there for many years and their son continued on with the work they started.  Last year I read a book called "Haritacama" which is about the life and work of Dan's grandparents.  It is a very interesting and powerful book to read. A couple of weeks ago Dan's parents came to Guatemala for a visit and they wanted to do workshops on the Biblical form of worship. Dan had mentioned that his parents were coming last year already and I told him that I would like his parents to go to Cubulco and do a workshop there.   Dan's parents Timothy and Lynn have been working in Cucuta, Colombia all their life.  Cucuta is a city close to the border of Venezuela and is full of wickedness like many border cities are.  They work with local churches in the city and in the communities surrounding the city and run a Christian publishing company.  They also helped compile a hymnal which is the same one we use in our churches in Cubulco.   
At the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala City
Dan's parents ended up doing workshops not only in Cubulco, but also in other parts of Guatemala.  The seminar in Cubulco was well attended as we invited the obreros, teachers, and translators, as well as people from the church and other evangelical churches in Cubulco. We had a group of more than 40 people who attended from which around 20 were from our church and the rest were from the Nazarene and Assemblies of God church. I also put them in contact with the Presbyterian churches who were excited to have them come as many churches are losing the traditional psalms and hymns to modern worship.  They were invited to do workshop on three different occasions with the Presbyterians. Dan's father also preached twice in the Central Presbyterian church.
The workshops were very well done, and Dan's parents did a masterful job of presenting the material.  We sang a lot and we learned about the history behind many of the songs.  It was neat to see how passionate they were about the material and how they spoke about songs and their history not only from Europe and America, but also from other parts of the world like Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific.  
In Cubulco
Dan's family has an impressive legacy.  However, what impacted and touched me most was how they are focused on heaven.  Dan's grandfather and father's favorite theme to preach and teach on was/is heaven. Apparently the "theme song" for the family was/is "Jerusalem, Jerusalem". When Dan's grandfather was nearing the end of his life he slipped into a coma.  However, shortly before he passed from this life to the next, he sat straight up in bed and said in a strong voice, "it's beautiful, it is much more beautiful than I ever imagined", and then fell back into his coma and died shortly thereafter.  Dan's grandmother died while sitting at the the piano playing, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem".  Each time Dan's father speaks of heaven he gets choked up and has tears in his eyes. It was special to witness it and to hear of how they long for heaven. 
It is a reminder to me and I sure for others as well that this life is temporal and passing, and that we are simply pilgrims in this world. Our home is not here. I find that I often forget this in my life and that I live too much for today and for this life. I know in my mind that this life is passing, but I often to not live like it is. Often I lose my focus and live like this life is the only one. It was good to be reminded again of this reality and refocus on heaven: to long for heaven. This life and this world is nothing compared to what life in heaven will be like. Therefore, death for believers, (although painful for those left behind) is a "blessing".  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5....

"5 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord."

Paul says that as long as we have our earthly bodies we can not be with the Lord and enjoy His presence. Therefore, his desire is to leave his earthly body (death) in order to be with the Lord, not naked (bodiless) but with a glorified, perfect body.  Although this is a desire I have at times, I want it to be something that I constantly desire so that I no longer live for this life, but live for eternity and that this will be evident in my work as missionary.