To phrase it differently, I think I may have done myself a disservice. I signed up to become part of a blog ring of like-minded writers. The ring is called RevGalBlogPals. It’s a group of female pastors, other church women and like-minded writers. They let me in for some of my more spiritual blogs.
I’m not sure they’ve read the other postings about how many times I’ve set the pasture on fire or how sometimes the parking lot of our Walmart smells like cow shit. Now I feel kind of obligated to write churchy things all the time. And curtail my use of the word “shit.”
Shot myself in the foot, for sure.
Beaven and I are packing up for the adult version of summer camp so I might be gone from the blogosphere next week if I can’t access the internet. We’re going to Living Waters University in Oxford, Mississippi to learn how to install water purification systems. We had so much fun managing a camp for the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance during the Katrina recovery we’ve been looking for a similar ministry ever since.
I’ve been going to Guatemala almost every year since 1999 and our group has developed a relationship with the Norte Presbytery there. Presbyterians are all about relationships. If you are writing a paper in a Presbyterian seminary and find yourself stumped for 20 more pages I always advise friends to throw in 20 pages on either Grace or Relationships and they’re usually OK.
But by visiting the same people every year you end up with a level of trust you can’t get in one visit alone. We have ten year’s experience of sitting in people’s homes and meeting their children. I’ve visited Miriam and Guilder where they work. I’ve walked in Ludin’s corn field and met the men who work for him. I’ve heard the story of how Guillermo and Loida met. And now, with facebook, I can read the notes Ligia sends to her mother to ask if she can babysit that night. And I got to be one of the first wave of people Sonia told she is to become a grandmother again. That is a relationship, friends.
Every time I visit Guatemala the first thing I get is a bottle of agua pura, bottled purified water. One of the first things I learned about visiting the country is that the water is dangerous to drink. This is the case in most poor countries. You don’t drink the tap water. You don’t brush your teeth with it. You don't wash your contacts with it. You don’t even open your mouth in the shower if you can help it. It only takes one little germ to start a roaring case of turista. Most people who live in countries like this have had dysentery once or twice. Those who can afford it, drink only bottled water but still end up sick once in a while.
Every trip I’ve taken to this beloved country has always resulted in at least one person on the trip getting sick. Veterans know they might get sick and they still go. I’ve avoided it more than others—I think I’ve really only been hit once or twice. My friend Linda usually gets sick every single year. But she has become an expert at how to handle traveler’s diarrhea; or as Linda calls it, "a bubbly tummy."
Our annual trip to Guatemala has evolved into a few standards like visiting the Children’s Nutrition Project we started years ago and still fund. And there is always one day we spend just driving around to different Presbyterian Churches. Sometimes we eat a meal with them but mostly we just drive by to refresh our memory with names and faces of people and churches we’ve met before.
Usually our visits have an advance team who talk to the church ahead of our visit. They explain that the gringos can’t handle the tap water, that it will make us sick. The church is always accommodating and makes sure everything is made with bottled water.
But one year, one tiny congregation didn’t get the word to use bottled water. We drove up to the church thinking it was a kind of “drive-by” visit where we’d only look out the van, snap a few pictures and keep going.
When we got to the tiny Bethel Presbyterian Church the whole congregation was waiting for us. In fact, we found out they had been waiting for three hours to meet us. The pastor made a little speech to say most of them had never even met a norte americano. Then the ladies brought out a refresco for us to drink. I took one look at the drink and the glasses and knew the church had not used agua pura to make the drinks. But they had been waiting for us. It would have been unthinkable to refuse their hospitality.
This is one of those situations that really defines people. I knew as sure as anything that if I drank that glass of refresco I would get sick. It was as simple as that.
I held the glass on my lap and took a few anemic sips. I decided this was the very situation the Confession of Sin was invented for and didn't touch the drink any further. My friend Linda, who was raised Lutheran and is much more gracious than I am, drank her whole glass. Finally, our Young Adult Volunteer took my glass from me. I heard later she drank the contents of my glass so that she could return an empty glass to the kitchen.
It was our last day in the country and most of us got home before we felt the full effects of the water. Linda got so sick she needed an IV for dehydration. The YAV who drank my glass in addition to her own ended up in the hospital. I told you it was serious stuff.
On our last two annual trips to Guatemala we visited churches that had recent Living Waters for the World installations. LWW is a program of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) that trains people like Beaven and me to install and train communities how to care for the water system.
It works best to install a system in one of the churches in a community. The church will know the needs of the people and take better care of the equipment. When the system is installed in Christ’s name and used to His glory things just work out better.
Last year we were there for the dedication of the latest installation. This was a church congregation we already knew, old friends. We sang one of my favorite songs:
Gracias Senor por el dia tan lindo de hoy
Gracias Senor for la vida y la salud
Vengo, vengo a ti Senor
Vengo, vengo a ti Senor
Vengo yo a ti Senor expresar mi gratitude.
Thank you, God for a day as beautiful as today
Thank you, God, for life and health
We come to you, God
To show our gratitude.
I hear that there is a possibility of putting in a water system at the tiny Bethel Church. If that happens I want to be there. I want to help put it in. I want to sing Gracias Senor there.