What I learned last week in Guatemala:
• While most of the people on the trip had bought my book few people have actually read it.
• You can have a deep relationship with people you only see once a year.
• It’s impossible to capture the mountains of Guatemala with a camera. (At least, I can't. This is Rob Leischner's photo.)
• However, you can’t take a bad picture of the flowers there.
• Prayer works.
• Cold Eeze works. (For me, at least; sadly, not so much for Hermana Linda.)
• The best bonding to be had is waiting out a two-hour traffic jam in a bus with 20 other people
• It’s the journey, people, not the destination
There is so much to tell and I’ve come home to a full schedule. Let me tell you one of the highlights and let the rest simmer until the words emerge in the correct order.
I’ve been to Guatemala almost every year since 1999. On the 2003 Trip we visited the Bethel church in El Rancho. As we were leaving the church to get back on the road a man stopped me and ask me to pray for him. I wrote about it in my book, which you probably haven’t read so I’ll give you an excerpt:
"The next afternoon we visited Bethel, the church where we got so sick the year before. I recognized some of the ladies from the year before. One man asked that we pray for his back. I had him write his name down in my notebook so I would have the correct spelling: Marvin Mauricio Peñeda Perez. And I assured him that I would pray for him. He was a fairly young man but he told me he had suffered for five years and was unable to work.He’s been on my prayer list ever since. At times I prayed for Marvin’s back and at other times I used him as a generic example of all the Guatemalan people who had medical problems that they couldn’t get treated because of money or other reasons. I remembered Marvin as a young man and know that most men in Guatemala need to work more than one job to get enough money to support their families. And those jobs are always hard physical labor. So Marvin’s problems didn’t just affect his own comfort, he had mouths to feed and mouths weren’t getting fed if he couldn’t work.
"How many names? How many notebooks full of names? The pain, the unrelenting poverty, the disease and war were overwhelming; but I had gotten used to that part and did the only thing I could do. I wrote his name down. Marvin Mauricio Peneda Perez may never remember that he asked me to pray for him. And I might not remember to mention him by name on a daily basis. But I know that God knows his name without consulting a notebook. I know that God knows that his back hurts. I also know that if I were to ask God why God doesn’t do something about it. God might turn the question around and ask me why I don’t do something about it. So I write their names down and I pray."
When we visited Marvin’s church last week we were asked to lead the adult Sunday School class of about 20 adults. Once I had the floor I began by asking for a minute of personal business. I asked if anyone in the congregation knew Marvin Mauricio Peñeda Perez. As soon as the word "Marvin” left my lips, before I could even get to the "Mauricio Peneda Perez" part, there was murmuring in the congregation, people looked at each other and repeated his name to each other: “Marvin Peñeda? Si. Si!” A young woman in the front held up her hand. He was her husband, she said. And his back is better and he is working.
It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. And it wasn’t so much that Marvin was better, although I know that to Marvin it was everything. But I was so happy to be able to tell them that I had not forgotten them--that someone from another country knows their pain and remembers it. Someone from outside knows they exits, that they matter.
I can take Marvin off my list. But I have a new name to add and I’ll tell you about her next week.