Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Extraordinarily Ordinary

We had seven folks from Guatemala visit last week.  And the most extraordinary thing about it was how ordinary it really was.




These were old friends, after all.  Most I have known for over ten years.  And if you ask “How can you be such good friends with people you see only one week a year and can't even talk to without an interpreter?” the answer has to be because we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  Christ is the head of this family and that’s about all we need to know before calling them hermano or hermana.
  
  




I had to take a selfie of Miriam and myself to send Sonia before we even left the airport.


Most years we go to Guatemala to visit them but this year they came here.

Yes, they have Presbyterians in Guatemala.  The story goes that the president of Guatemala at the time was getting uncomfortable with the extraordinary power the Catholic church had.  He wanted to dilute their power with some Protestants.(Yay, protestants!) So in 1882 asked President Garfield  to send some protestant missionaries and because Garfield was Presbyterian, that’s who he sent.  And, lest you think they may be just knock off Presbyterians, not REAL Presbyterians, I once spotted a Spanish translation of Calvin’s Institutes on a pastor"s bookshelf.  These folks are probably better Presbyterians than I am.  They are certainly better Christians.

From the minute I spotted Guillermo walking through the door at the airport it was just so comfortable and relaxed. It was like resuming a year-long conversation in the middle of a sentence.

My eyes were opened, too—just as much as when I visit their country.  On the drive home from the  airport I saw Dallas with new eyes.  Instead of being surrounded by green mountains, Dallas is all concrete and overpasses, the likes of which you never see in Central America. The two places couldn't be more different.

We lost a day from the start when their original flight was cancelled due to storms in Dallas. (The Spanish word for storm is tormenta.  I just love it.) So we hit the ground running:  Dinner in Whitesboro.  Splitting up into four hosts families taking them to four different houses. 

Our travel each day was organized between two or three cars and praying we could get a translator in each car.  When it didn't happen I just played music, carefully skipping over tracks of Lady GaGa and Amy Winehouse.  

We regrouped the next morning for a day of visiting churches and programs.  Interfaith Housing Coalition, English Language Ministries, the Pleasant Grove Food Bank,  The next day they visited the Grace Presbytery office. When we visit Guatemala they'll usually spend one day in a whirlwind of visiting each of the nine churches in their presbytery.  We call it "The Church March" and took them to visit every church in our cluster. Somehow we visited the First Christian Church in Dallas. I'm not sure why.  I have to admit that by this time I had lost track and just went where Julie told me to go.  Special thanks go out to my Toyota's navigation system.

At the end of that long day we ate pizza at Rob Leischner’s house and talked about all the agencies we had toured.  All the good work that was being done.  And the key to the success at every single agency we visited was volunteers.  This struck a chord with our Guatemalteco friends. No matter what country, what agency, the wonderful work planned is always at the mercy of having enough volunteers to carry out the good ideas.  The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 

The group was made of pastors and various church officials.  Since the visit bridged two weekends the three pastors in the group each preached a couple of times.  And the host pastors on our tour always insisted they check out the pulpit during our visit.  Here's Julio testing the pulpit at Eastminster.  

 How you gonna keep them down on the farm after something like this?

Then, just as though I had personally ordered this trip from God, they came to my house for lunch before heading out to Gilmont for a retreat at my favorite camp.  It couldn’t have possibly been any better. 

When I planned a tipico americano meal I went with hot dogs and apple pie.  
This is Rumaldo, Ludin and Miriam with Linda on the left.






One of the highlights of the visit for me was showing Miriam and Ludin the pictures I framed from one of my visits to Guatemala.  It's one of my favorite.  Especially the picture of his mother, Elda de Leon, whom I consider one of the most beautiful women I've ever met.








When we left my house and went to Gilmont for a two-day retreat I knew what it would add to our trip.  What I wasn't expecting was the bonus we got when we found out the camp manager, Thomas Truitt, is fluent in Spanish.  This ended up being a real life-saver when the translator at one church dropped out.  Various nervous breakdowns ensued (very quiet and orderly--We are Presbyterians, after all.) until Thomas offered to cut short his planned PR talk in Garland and run over to Eastminster to translate the sermon. God is merciful this way sometimes.

But the best moment of all--in this week of best moments-- was the campfire at Gilmont.  Linda had all the makings for S'mores.  A guy in our church loaned Guillermo an accordion.  What more could you ask from an evening?





Alabare, Alabare, Alabare a mi Senor  
Praise God

It was also a veritable Spanish By Immersion class.  Hearing so many conversations repeated into a second language. My Spanish got slightly better-- a baby's crawl better.  At one point, one of the Dallas pastors asked me to translate something and I surprised myself by doing it.  Yes, it was a simple sentence but I managed to summon a whole sentence out of my “Caveman” Spanish.  (Oops, was that offensive to any cavemen out there? One can never be too careful.  Besides, we referred to ourselves as Gringos all week.) Eventually, I latched onto Daniel Mancilla, who spoke a bit of English, and tried out words on him.  His talent was listening, and speaking very slowly.  Despacio.

We usually have a business meeting at some point.  These used to be extremely formal and dignified meetings.  Now the meetings are so informal you might not even notice that's what we're doing.  Every year we get an accounting of the funds for both the Childrens Nutrition Project and the Pastor Support Fund.  They are scrupulous in their record keeping.  Every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed.  They had a spreadsheet that totaled up and down and side to side.  The accountant in me silently sang a few choruses of Handel.

When we visit Guatemala we always spend one day at the church that is hosting the Nutrition Project.  They picked the sickest kids in town no matter who they are, to receive the free meals. And it’s always the best and healthiest meal of the week when we eat with these children.

Twenty kids. 
Two days a week. 
Breakfast, snack, lunch & snack.
Served with clean water.
A little bible study for the kids.  
Some nutrition instructions for the mothers. 

It doesn’t sound like much, does it?  The clean water part may look insignificant but I can promise it is major. I know what happens to you when you drink the tap water in this country. And to those people who say “They are used to the water and it doesn’t hurt them.”  I can tell you they are not “used to the water.”  They are simply used to being sick all the time.  It’s all they’ve ever known. Those who can afford it make sure their kids drink purified water.  Those who can’t afford to buy clean water resign themselves to chronic illness.  Sometimes their kids are so sick they can’t go to school.

We wanted our guests to have a good visit.  We were vigilant and made sure Julio was able to call home to check on his daughter when she had to go to the hospital..  When Miriam hurt her toe we fussed over it and took her to get more comfortable shoes.  We made sure we had diabetic options at meals because we knew one of our group is diabetic.

But we never had to think twice about the water we served them. 

             Let me leave you with this thought:
             Summer is here and you will need to water your grass.  
The water you water your grass with is pure enough to drink.  
The water you flush your toilet with is pure enough to drink.  
You wash your clothes and your dirty dishes in water that is pure enough to drink. 

Praise God, we had wonderful time with our friends.  Check out Luke 10:1-12 and come with us next year. Or sign up with Living Water for the World.  The link is always at the top of the blog.

Real Texans now:  Rumaldo, Julio, Guillermo, Marlen, Daniel, Miriam y Ludin

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