And I’ve saved the best for last.
Naturally, the main attraction for going to Guatemala for the Pastors’ Meetings was to be at the meetings. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting under the preaching of brothers from all over Latin America.
There were two tents set up for the meetings: the main one for the Spanish speakers, a second one for English speakers. The English tent is necessary for two reasons. First, for newbie missionaries (like me!) who can’t yet understand Spanish that well; also, for attendees from Brazil, Belize, and even some from Mexico who cannot speak Spanish, but are fluent in English.
The two tents were a reminder to me of the great ignorance folks from the States tend to have about their Latin American neighbors. Most people from the States tend to call anyone south of the border Mexican and think they are named either José or Maria and speak Spanish and eat nothing but tacos and think a few other stereotypes I refuse to acknowledge. Ignorance is not bliss.
I chose to sit in the Spanish tent because I wanted the challenge of seeing how much I could understand and of pushing myself to learn more. I wrote down frequently used verbs and nouns to study later.
Behind the tents in the distance you could see smoke rising from the volcanos, El Fuego and El Acatenango.
This was the dry season, so there was a lot of dust and less green than in other times of the year. To help settle the dust, some local fellows would buy water in a large tanker truck and spray the water out over the dirt road, the parking area, and the yard around the complex. It was surprising how much water they put down only to have dust again the next day.
Each morning began with breakfast at 7:00. Every meal had freshly made corn tortillas; the cooks took corn to grind at the mill each morning while we were still sleeping. Their corn tortillas are smaller than U.S. flour tortillas, and they do not use them as burritos, but eat them alongside or between bites of their other food.
After breakfast we had a short break until the meetings began for the day. There were two messages before lunch. One thing I thoroughly enjoyed about all the talks during the day was the testimony time afterward, el diálogo. After the speaker sat down, a mic was passed around and people either gave testimony, offered correction/clarification to the message, or asked the speaker questions about his topic.
It was interesting to hear the brethren go back and forth, discussing the topic, encouraging each other, sharing their related struggles, etc. I greatly appreciated the openness of those dialogues and felt much was learned or applied personally to hearts with ready, good soil immediately after the talk, rather than letting the birds swoop down to eat up the seed of the Word. North Americans could learn from that.
After the second message, we had lunch. Back from lunch we went to a time of sharing and prayer requests; then we divided into groups of half a dozen or more to pray. The first day when we went into groups, the fellow who was responsible to lead our group said (in Spanish) that since everyone could speak Spanish–remember I had been sitting in the Spanish tent–he would just talk solely in Spanish. Then he asked us to introduce ourselves and tell where we were working as missionaries.
As it turned out, I was the last one in the group, so I was able to choose my words with a little less pressure. When my turn came, I used my gringo Spanish and told them my name, that I would be working in Peru with Lamar Hursh’s, and that I was a new “missionario.”
As soon as the word was out of my mouth, I knew it was wrong. But it proved my point! They likely all thought the new missionario should have checked his diccionero before speaking. I prayed in English.
After prayer time, there was another message before supper. After supper was the final message of the day, which was always an evangelistic message and was attended by more local people, rather than only the conference attendees.
There was plenty of singing, and I enjoyed it very much. They sang pretty slowly, I thought, but that allowed me time to ponder the messages of the song and to anticipate the pronunciations. And their songbooks had notes in them! The few Spanish songbooks I’ve used in the States have all been just chorus books with lyrics only. We’ve had to limp along as a family with learning new songs by ear, which is not a strong point of mine. It was such a pleasure to settle into a new song that I could read the music for!
One thing that made me chuckle, which maybe it shouldn’t have because it was somewhat irreverent, was that in the first message of the first day, a cellphone went off. The mortified attendee silenced it promptly, but the bishop brother who was moderator for the day did mention that we should keep our cellphones off or silent during the preaching of God’s Word, et cetera.
Then wouldn’t you know, another cellphone went off during the second message of the day! So the moderator spoke more frankly about not wanting cellphones during the preaching. But another one went off in the third message! In a group of over two hundred people with most of them having cellphones it seemed, apparently there is a small percentage that doesn’t know how to either shut them off or shut them up.
So at the end of the day, the moderator very firmly said they do not want this to happen tomorrow.
Unfortunately, even people who very much want to do what’s right and proper can still make mistakes. The next day it happened twice. But this is where my chuckles came in. The two times it happened the second day was to two different bishops who were moderators of the meetings, and the second time the poor man’s phone started ringing while he was standing in front of the mic. He silenced it immediately and without making a big ado, but one minute later the insistent caller was back!
The third day there were no phones going off during the services.
The message topics were challenging and encouraging. There were three messages on various aspects of love. There was one on convictions for a proper use of technology (I do not recall any ringing cellphones in that message, incidentally.), another on fasting, another on various gifts in the church.
The one message that moved me the most was on “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” The speaker shared some of his own experience with difficult relationships; not all of them ended with happily-ever-after. But he challenged us to pursue reconciliation in all the broken relationships we interact with. That’s our direct call as believers: we are given the ministry of reconciliation.
How to make that practical? Well, it means getting my hands dirty, having other people angry with me at times, pushing through the misunderstandings and differences, and pursuing love. Yet somehow holding the standard of Jesus high, never backing down for truth in favor of keeping someone happy with us. I have much to learn about that. How can we be full of grace and truth, as Jesus was?
I did push myself to speak Spanish a few times while I was in Guatemala. In each of the situations, I always made one mistake or another. I thought I’d share just a few yet to close off my update.
I needed a dollar because I had run out of cash, so I asked a friend for “un dolor más.” He assured me I did not want more “dolor.”
An ancient local fellow named Francisco talked with me each evening; though, I had told him I could not speak Spanish. That didn’t stop him. The last night as I was packing up he asked me a number of questions; one being where I was going to be serving. The only part I caught at first was the “where are you going” part, so I told him “Virginia.” He seemed rather surprised that I’d be serving there. I decided the easiest response was to beam at him cheerfully (and painfully) until he walked away, chuckling to himself.
I lost my songbook. It was a borrowed songbook from a friend in the States, so I had to ask for the moderator to annouce the last night of the meetings that it was lost. Someone found it and gave it to the moderator, who then went roaming the grounds looking for me. He found me and told me in long strings of Spanish how he had looked here, then there, then another place, and back here but couldn’f find me anywhere! He didn’t know my name, so he couldn’t ask people where I was. My embarrassment promptly closed down the Spanish part of my brain, and I started answering him in English. Finally he just handed me the book with a smile and a pat on the arm. As he turned away, I weakly said “Lo siento!” But I don’t think he even heard.
The last mistake–that I was aware of–wasn’t a mistake in Spanish, not really. On the flight out of Guatemala City, the flight attendent was asking everyone what they wanted for snack, et cetera. I was quite pleased with myself that I was able to string together several sentences in Spanish, telling her I would take coffee and pretzels. The embarrasing part is that I immediately fell asleep and woke myself up later by my own snoring to discover everyone else had enjoyed their snacks while I had sawed logs for all to hear. The only time I used flawless (maybe) Spanish, wasted!
Sorry for such a long, strung-out update.
I loved my short time in Guatemala. I hope I get to visit again someday. The people were pleasant and gracious. The food was fantastic. The fellowship sweet. And I was getting used to the dirt.
Time fails me to tell of how I ended up with forty yards of dress material when I had told my wife I intended to buy nothing while traveling. And how that same material jumped from a dollar a yard to over three dollars a yard in an easily avoidable manner.
And all the other mini-adventures I had along the way… As they say, time is fun when you’re having flies.
¡Vaya con Dios!