Well…it is our last night here in Guate. We had quite a lovely day in Antigua. Antigua is not only a beautiful, rustic city but also a global hub for artists, local professionals, indigenous people wearing their traditional clothing, and drifters from all over the world. It is an interesting mixture of ruins, cobblestone streets, majestic cathedrals, noisy traffic, quaint restaurants, commercialism in the form of traditional markets and stores like North Face, and also what proved to be a highlight of the day- the world’s most beautiful McDonalds. We had so much fun not only learning how to barter (some better than others) in the markets but also taking one of our last van rides with each other where some of thee goofiest conversations would take place but also some of the sweetest and most profound conversations would happen as well.
I think it is safe to say that we have a love-hate relationship with those white vans! They have safely taken us to the most remote parts of this country. They have provided a space for us to not only be physically close with each other but, as mentioned, provided an ambiance where we became friends with each other- laughing and crying. However, these vans were not luxurious. They barely (if at all) had air conditioning. We found out that Guatemala likes their speed bumps- some purposefully made and some that have simply formed because their GDOT (Guatemala Department of Transportation…I made that up) doesn’t really seem to mind if the summer’s rainy season washes out roads leaving huge gullies and crevices.
I think those vans can help begin to paint a picture of some of the things we may have learned and grappled with this week. Stick with me here for a few more thoughts:
One of the vans broke down on the way to pick us up from the airport. This meant that we had to stuff 36 of us as well as our luggage in 3 passenger vans. Seats had to be removed and strapped to the top of one of the vans. Some of the Luggage had to be strapped there as well. We had to sit 4-5 of us in each row. It was hot. Many of us didn’t really know each other well at all. We had no choice but to move close to one another.
See we have been given the gift of space in the United States. It is a gift. We don’t need to feel guilty about this at all. But, with this gift of space we, as an American culture, have created for ourselves a sense of physical separation from one another. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. Our houses and neighborhoods are spread apart, we have large schools, and large churches where (at least in our family’s church) we may not sit by anyone we know for 2-3 weeks. Soooo…what’s the lesson here? Our physical closeness in these vans connected us in profound ways this week. We had to look each other in the eye. We couldn’t avoid talking to the people we accidentally would lean into as we took on those large pot holes. We shielded our eyes from the same dust that came pouring through the air conditioning vents when it started up. We saw the same beautiful volcano which was spitting out little streams of red lava in the (far) distance. And, we saw the same hard images of what tragic poverty looks like. We shared life because we shared a small space.
Might this mean for all of us leaving Guatemala in just a few short hours and for those who are taking time to read this entry (you are a brave soul) that we have a huge challenge in front of us? YES! I will speak for myself here: On Monday I will get in my car by myself and drive to work. I will go to work at a very large school (the Guatemalan family I helped build a house couldn’t imagine a school of over 900 students) and I will teach in a large classroom where students can sit spread apart from one another. In the evening, I will look for a space in the house where I can spread out and subconsciously claim it as my space for the night and my kids will either retreat to their own bedrooms or to another space in the house. This is just the way it is. It is not a bad thing necessarily and it is certainly not a sin. It is what it is.
So what? Am I turning this blog entry into a call for building smaller houses? Live in communes with each other? Construct neighborhoods with central meeting areas and common spaces? No! I think all of this is currently being done by people in our country (Have you watched Tiny House Hunters on HGTV? It makes me claustrophobic.) Was the point of this trip to ask and attempt to answer this question: “How do we share life with one another when we return to a culture that (if we are honest) encourages and allows for vast physical distance and also relational distance?” No! I think it is a good question for all of us on this trip and those brave souls reading this to think about often.
I think the point may be this (and then I have to stop typing because we all need to get up in about 2 hours to leave for the airport): At the end of our last devotion tonight Dan and Anya laid a cross down on the floor. Next to that cross they put 2-3 hammers, a box of nails, some pencils, and some small pieces of paper. Dan invited all of us to move towards that cross, get on our knees, write down that burden or barrier, and then nail it to the old rugged cross.
That is just what these beautiful students did…they first moved towards the cross. This group is so special and seconds after Dan’s invitation there were 4 and then suddenly 10 and then 20 and only after just minutes 32 students kneeling around the cross writing down that burden and nailing it once and for all to the cross. Then, they moved toward each other. These beautiful students began to pray over one another, hug each other, laugh with each other, and cry with one another. The vans were certainly a tool to bring us close this week (as were the bunk beds) but the GLUE that has bonded this group has been their obedience to carry out the message of Jesus Christ to those hurting and forgotten in the farthest reaches of Guatemala and also the sweet acceptance of his grace and sacrifice for their own lives.
Thanks for reading,
PS…Even though our trip is almost done there is more information and updates that we would like to share with you about the library that we are beginning to stock for Pastor Pablo and Hermano Jesus, the church that we are helping to fund in the village where we built, and the pastor that we are supporting in this same village. I will most likely be writing these updates early next week on this blog page and sending out an email to parents too. Please remember to check this blog if you are not one of the team member’s parents and won’t be receiving the email!