Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Mourn With Those Who Mourn"!

The young man on the left is Santos Roberto who passed away.
Last week Wednesday evening I received a devastating call from one of our "pastors" Felipe telling me that his 18 year old son Santos Roberto had died tragically in a bike accident. Apparently he was racing with another boy, lost control and slammed into a concrete bridge. He was rushed to the hospital in Cubulco where they realized that his injuries where more than they could handle so they rushed him to the nearest government hospital an hour away. Along the way his blood pressure plummeted on several occasion and the doctor thought she had lost him. Each time they were able to get his pressure back up. At the government hospital in Salama they could not deal with the injuries either and decided to send him on to the city, but during this time Santos Roberto passed away into everlasting glory. While initially we thought his death was a result of trauma to the head, the autopsy showed that died from several ruptured arteries and veins in his chest. His passing was a devastating blow to the family and a huge shock to the community, church, and all of us who knew him.
The family requested that I be present for the funeral which was to be held in their community Patuy. I had an important meeting to attend on Thursday morning, but left right after and drove to Cubulco. The drive normally takes around 4 hours, but there was an accident (not serious) along the way as well as several small landslide clean ups which slowed traffic for quite some time. It ended up taking me around 5 hours to get there and I arrived around 6 pm. I had initially planned on spending the night in Cubulco and then travel to Patuy the following morning. However, the family phoned to tell me that if I could make it to Chitomax (the end of the road) before 7 pm that someone would be waiting there to take me across the river in a small boat. I quickly packed my stuff and made the 45 minute drive to Chitomax. Although it was dark out, someone was waiting for me to take me across the river. Pastor Xicara accompanied me and we hiked for close to 4 hours in the dark to get to Patuy. It took a little longer than usual because it rained along the way and Pastor Xicara had some difficulty walking at night. We arrived in Patuy at 11:00 pm and we found almost the whole community at Felipe's house (over 200 people). They had met the family at the river and had helped carry the coffin to the house (3 hour hike). The women were busy preparing food and we did not have a chance to speak to the family and give our condolences until after dinner. During the next few hours more people arrived from the community and neighboring villages. At around 1:00 pm we held a service in the home in which I was asked to preach words of comfort, encouragement and hope as well as a call to reflect on the brevity of life. I shared from the story of the death and raising of Lazarus and the hope that we find in Christ being "the resurrection and the life".  
After the service ended (around 2:30 am) I went to the church to get some sleep. Normally I sleep on a couple of church benches, but all the benches were at the house so I slept on the floor. I had a thin foam pad with me which took out the chill and some of the hardness of the floor. I actually slept remarkably well. The following day plans were made as to when the burial would take place and whether or not a service would be held in the home or at the church. In the end it was decided that lunch would be served between 11-12:00 followed by a brief meditation and time of singing at the house after which the body would be moved to the church and a formal service would be held. The body would then be carried to the cemetery for burial at around 2:00 pm. Although this kind of planning might seem strange for us, much has to do with how long it would take to dig the grave. I have helped dig around 4 graves during my time serving in Cubulco. It can be very hard work and can take more than 6 hours to dig each one when the ground is hard. Thankfully, the ground was soft and the grave was dug in 3 hours.
I was asked once again to do the meditation in the home as well as the sermon during the service. I spoke from Psalm 121 and focused especially on God watching over us and being beside us like our shadow is always beside us. Most English translations state in vs.5 that "the Lord is your shade at your right hand". The word in Hebrew for "shade" can also be translated as "shadow" which I personally prefer as I like that image of God being with me constantly just as my shadow never leaves me. I also spoke from 2 Corinthians 5 in which Paul talks about the "struggle" he faces constantly. His desire is to be with Christ, but he realizes that while he is clothed with an earthly tent (body) he can not be with Christ in heaven. In order to be with Christ he must first leave his earthly tent. That is the reality for all believers that it is not possible to physically be with Christ without dying first. Paul also speaks of his desire to be "re-clothed" with a glorious body since man was not created to be simply a soul. God created man with a body and soul and the two belong together. Death for the believer and his family is bitter sweet. It is sweet for the believer who passes from death to eternal life. It is bitter for the family who is left behind, although they are not left completely empty. They are left with the hope of that all believers have. 
This part of the funeral was the most difficult for me as it was for the family. Reality set in that Roberto is really gone and that soon they would not ever see him again on this earth as his body would be buried in the ground. The emotions were very raw and it was hard to not be moved. It was heart wrenching seeing family and friends draping themselves over the coffin and wailing bitterly. I do not cry very easily, but it was impossible not to. Thankfully, I could keep it together for the most part during the times I had to share from God's Word. Another difficult thing for me was having to stand at the head of the coffin and as I would look down I would stare in the face of the dead boy. Also as time went on the sweet stench of death became more apparent. In North America and Europe we try and "beautify" death. In countries like Guatemala this does not happen and you see death for what it really is. It is not pretty and it helps bring home the fact that we will all die one day. Death is ugly even though a funeral home might try and make one look good. 
After the service in the church and the final goodbye's were said, the coffin was carried to the cemetery which was around a 30-45 minute hike along a narrow trail. At the grave site I was asked to once again share from God's Word. I spoke from Psalm 23 and 90. After a few words from the family the coffin was lowered into the ground and the grave was filled up. This was done rather quickly with very little emotion. The emotions and goodbye's had been shown and done prior in the church. I spoke to the family for a little while afterwards and then hiked the 3 hours to where the pickup was. We had arranged to have someone take us across the river, but they made us wait an hour while they played soccer. When I arrived in Cubulco I showered and changed and then drove for 3.5 hours to Guatemala City. After such an emotional trip the thing I wanted most was to be with my family. 
Although several days have gone by, I still feel quite exhausted from the trip. It was physically and emotionally draining. However, for the family it was much more exhausting and they will feel it for a long time. I can and have continued on with my life, but for them life in a way stops as they deal with all their questions, fears, doubts, anger, grief, etc. Although those days where like a whirlwind Felipe sought me out on several occasions to talk to me, ask questions, share from his heart, and thank me for being there for them and encouraging and comforting them. I personally do not feel that I did a whole lot. I felt rather inadequate and at loss as to what to say to them. However, perhaps the most important thing I did was listen to him, pray with him, cry with him. I do not have the answers to his questions. He wonders why God took his son who was a good boy. He wonders why the wicked prosper. He wonders if his son can see them. Rather than try and give him theologically correct answers I told him to bring his questions to God. I encouraged him to read the book of Job and also said that it is not wrong to question God, to share how one feels and show one's raw emotions. God is greater and bigger than all of us and can handle these questions, outbursts, doubts, etc. better than we can and He can also comfort and answer those questions (or choose not to like He did with Job) better than we can. 
Please continue to pray for the family. Pray that they will find solace in God and His Word and that the death of Roberto and his testimony will especially speak to those who do not know Christ yet.

Just a note..... It might seem morbid to some to take pictures during a funeral, but the family requested that I take pictures, although it felt a little awkward.


Thursday, May 1, 2014


In my last post I wrote about the many frustrations and discouragements we have felt working in Cubulco. Since that last post we have been greatly encouraged in different ways. The first has been through the messages of friends, family, and supporters who expressed their appreciation for our openness and honesty and promised to pray for us. Prayer is so important and so uplifting. The second has been our own prayer life. This situation forced us to reflect on our prayer life and we were reminded that we need to spend more time in prayer for Cubulco Churches. The third encouragement was during one of our recent trips to Cubulco. We spent the weekend there and we able to participate in several activities of the church. A highlight was the visit of the ladies group of the church together with the pastor and the obrero to give thanks to God for the success of the small surgery I had to remove a cancerous spot on my neck.  Another highlight was seeing several new faces in church of people who had recently committed their lives to Christ.
During my last trip to Cubulco, I was also somewhat encouraged through a meeting I had with the church leaders to talk about the future of the churches in Cubulco. After meeting for some 6 hours they came to the conclusion that they should continue on with the process of joining the Presbyterian denomination. I had suggested that they take more time and continue to meet with the Presbyterian in order to get more clarifications on the concerns and questions they have. However, the men did not want to wait for another year. Although that part of the meeting was positive I still feel that the leaders are not of one mind. They are not willing to stand up to each other or to voice their opinions and thoughts when they think differently. They often accuse outsiders of trying to manipulate them, but the reality is that they do it amongst themselves and that the people from the outside are not the ones who are trying to manipulate them. They of course want to blame someone when things do not go their way and they do not want to blame themselves or each other. These are the difficulties of dealing with a shame based society where they do everything possible to not "lose face". Because of this, I remain somewhat concerned about the whole process as several steps still need to be taken before the end of May before the churches can be accepted as a separate Presbytery. One of the steps is the ordination of several of the obreros as pastors so that we can meet the minimum requirement of becoming a Presbytery which are three organized churches with a consistory and pastor. However, I feel I have done my part and the rest is up to them. If they do not comply with the other steps they will quickly realize that things will not turn out as they hope. One of the things the leaders need to learn is to be more formal in what they do. It is very common to do things informally and as they deem fit and they often have a hard time following guidelines and order even though they have been taught to do so. It is human nature, however, to do things on your own terms and conditions and not what the Bible says, or what sound tradition states based on years of experience. I therefore ask you (the reader) to continue to pray for the leaders of the churches and for their commitment for doing what is right and Biblical and that they lay aside their personal interests, and that you pray for this process of joining the National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala.