I need to finally sit down and give a report on our Guatemalan trip. Joan went with me and we actually spent Christmas there in Guatemala City. We preached in 4 different churches and had a great time. Joan got to practice her Spanish and phrases and words that I had all but forgotten came flowing out of my mouth as I tried to communicate. Pastor Ontinel Rodriguez hosted us and set up our schedule. We got to the place to where between nods, unspoken knowledge and my broken Spanish we were able to communicate quite well. By the end of the trip he was experimenting with his English. On Christmas day we were eating a delicious meal prepared by Violeta, the pastor’s wife, I was trying to communicate to Pastor Ricardo. It was some thoughts that I had successfully communicated to Pastor Rodriguez before. When I was done, Pastor Ricardo was sharing with the others what I had said, when Pastor Rodriguez’ boys (he has 5 sons and a youngest princess) interrupted and told him what I really said. Saying all of this to say that I was able to communicate despite the language barrier and Pastor Rodriguez and his sons were in sync with me.
Pastor Rodriguez pastors the church that was pioneered by Frank Amada. I preached for his church and did a men’s discipleship. Our flights got delayed and missed because of storms in the Northeast so we had to fly through Panama and arrived without luggage. I took time from our search for bags to look out over a crowd of 100’s waiting for the passengers to clear customs. Joan and I eventually made our way through the crowd wondering how we would be recognized by Pastor Rodriguez. We eventually borrowed someone’s cell phone and called the # we had been calling from the states. We made contact and experienced the fun of talking while seeing the other person holding the phone. Mrs. Rodriguez said that she saw me when I looked over the crowd but that I looked younger than my picture with a baseball cap on. Remind me to not lose my baseball caps.
He put us up in The Pan American hotel. The Pan American is situated a block from the downtown plaza. It is an older hotel and is famous for their Guatemalan cuisine. We only ate two meals there but had coffee and bread there several times. Our first day in the city we took a stroll to the plaza. Christmas time had brought out all of the vendors with traditional items, international knock offs and lots of food. We went into two different cathedrals and the state house that was built for the President in 1942. The state house reminded me of our tour of Versailles in Paris. Hard to believe a third world country could support this level of extravagance. America somehow got and has retained to a certain degree the idea that leaders serve from the bible. Most third world leaders are served rather than serve.
Pastor Rodriguez’ church was a pleasure to preach in. They had a lively song service. Pastor Rodriguez conducts the service with an air of authority. I met Pastor George Moreno from El Paso who would translate 13 of the 15 sermons I preached. The services were supported by the surrounding churches. There was a sense of unity and purpose through out my time there. Pastor Moreno counted this time of partnering for the sake of my need of a translator as a God-given moment to bring the different churches together. I included this idea with my discipleship that I preached.
We then traveled to Esquintla crossing the band of 15 active volcanoes that divide Guatemala. We stopped in Antigua for some tourist shopping and a view of the volcano overlooking the city. We then toured the cathedrals that were destroyed by earthquakes and volcanoes. There were many tourists in Antigua and I saw lots of offers to take buses to different locations in Guatemala. While we were in Guatemala one of the other pastors called George from his campsite on the edge of one of the volcano craters. I had promised Anna Marie (Pastor Rodriguez’ daughter) lunch at MacDonald’s (pronounced McDonnas). MacDonald’s is very common in Guatemala. Many of them even include the McCafe for Starbucks like coffee which they serve to you at your table. Usually next to every MacDonald’s there is a Pollo Campero, Guatemala’s pride and joy of the fast food world. This Guatemalan chain is going international. Our first visit there we were kind of let down by the fast food nature of the place, but it seemed to be the local favorite and when you ordered your chicken traditional style it came with all of the fixings of a home cooked Guatemalan meal.
Esquintla was a third world pleasure. It lies down from the mountains that hold Guatemala city towards the coast. We drove through the coffee fields in the high country of Antigua through the sugar fields that surround Esquintla. It reminded us of Mazabuka in so many ways. We stayed in a small hotel without hot water. The potted plants were right from our porch in Zambia. The floating ashes from the burning sugar fields just added to the deja-vu experience. Each morning Joan and I had coffee in our room (Pastor Rodriguez had supplied us with an iron, coffee maker and coffee). We then took a stroll through the town stopping at one particular juice bar for a refreshing drink. We then had lunch for the pastor’s family whom I was preaching for, Pastor Rodriguez’s family, my escort, and Pastor Moreno’s family, my interpreter. At each church this was the arrangement and it was a special time of fellowship. I had broken a temporary crown and while is Esquintla I had spied out a dentist and took time one morning to see if he could fix me up. Pastor Rodriguez was a little worried about our strolls and was also worried about my visiting a local dentist, but all turned out well.
His concern was justified. One restaurant had a sign posted not allowing guns into the place. Typical of Latin America the shops are shuttered closed each night. Crime was apparently a real issue. Gangs have developed in the city with young kids with guns boarding buses and robbing everyone. I heard several stories of relatives who were murdered for cell phones. Pastor Ricardo and his family were traveling from their conference home when their bus was robbed and a stray bullet struck his youngest child’s head. The boy eventually died. It was actually a front page story and the newspapers tracked the boy’s hospital stay and eventual death. The president called in the military to not just patrol the streets but to track down and kill the gang members much like they tracked and killed the Indian guerillas in times past.
The services in Esquintla went very well. Once again the churches came together and we had visitors. The store front was open onto the street so it gave the services an outdoor feel. Pastor Ricardo and his family (he still has a daughter, Claudia and two twin boys) (they and Pastor Rodriguez’ children swam each day at the hotel’s pool) have taken some tough shots. I believe God wanted to use this time to really encourage him and his family. They supported all of the services and ate with us and Pastor Rodriguez on Christmas day at Pastor Rodriguez’ house.
We finished up in Esquintla with Pastor Moreno picking us up and taking us down to the beach with his wife and daughter, Esperanza (Espy) and Ariel. Everyone frolicked in the Pacific and we ate a seafood meal cooked over a fire at one of the many places along the beach. We drove back to Guatemala City for service that night at Pastor Moreno’s church. Once again the services were supported by all of the local churches. I ended up preaching only one sermon twice (at Pastor Moreno’s request). Ariel plays the keyboard and Espy the saxophone for their song service. Pastor Moreno has a great group of young guys in his church. Once again it reminded me of the young men I had in Mazabuka. What a privilege to be able to disciple young men.
We stayed with the Moreno’s in their house up in the hills overlooking the city. We spent Saturday at the local market of Mixco. What a treat to walk the crowded walkways between the shops and the stalls. Once again because of the timing of Christmas the makeshift stalls overwhelmed the market place with every color and smell of the season. The markets were bustling with business. I always enjoy checking out the fruits and vegetables along with the cuts of meat being sold. One thing I noticed in Guatemala and Zambia is the introduction of the international fruits or vegetables. The nicest looking apples being sold in the market place in Guatemala came from Washington. These fruits or vegetables are sold by many different vendors and the prices are always the same with no room in their margins for bargaining. The locally produced items are always open to negotiation. It was pleasant walk down to the marketplace and the walk up the hill home got all of our hearts pumping.
The day before Christmas found Pastor Moreno taking us back to the Pan American. We ate together and visited a local market they knew of for our last purchases. Joan didn’t get a lot of things but I think she is pleased with what she did get to memorialize our trip to Guatemala. That night we preached in Villa Nueva for Pastor Miguel. This church was pioneered by Pastor Rodriguez sent out by Pastor Amada. Pastor Mitchell had actually come and did a crusade here before we ever had any churches. Pastor Rodriguez was the electrician who wired the stage. He sat through some of the services but did not respond. Apparently somehow he hooked up with Pastor Amada when he came to the country. This church had a level of maturity although Pastor Miguel (Miguelito because of his small stature) had just been the pastor for less than a year. I preached some new sermons that I felt matched the season and the needs of the church. I preached on Joseph: 1) had Godly attractions 2) had compassion 3) could hear from God. Pastor Moreno interpreted his last sermon that Christmas eve. Pastor Mike Ashcraft out of Santa Monica took over interpreting the last two services, Christmas evening and the day after Christmas.
Christmas day was very pleasant. Joan and I had coffee and hot bread. We took our stroll through the plaza. We were picked up for lunch at the pastor’s house. We had a great meal that was topped off with the perfect cup of espresso from the pastor. One side bar: I had given a copy of the James Tembo film to Pastor Rodriguez. He and his boys had watched it and although they couldn’t understand the English they complimented it. They were enthralled with the restaurant scene where the actors are eating using their hands. They all commented about this. Kicked a football around with Minor, Pastor Rodriguez’ second born. The boys had already bought me one cd and they gave us some other cds with the song service music that Joan was impressed with. One special song that goes something like “what would have happened to me if you had not found me”, “where would I be If you had not forgiven me”, at any rate the song is beautiful in Spanish and each church when it was sung you could feel the hearts of the saints rising to touch God in praise. Pastor Mike translated my Christmas sermon that night, the 3 appearances of Christ. Under the influence of a book I was reading, I enjoyed giving a sweeping sermon of the birth of Christ and the reason for coming, the rapture and the second coming with special emphasis upon the millennial kingdom and our being placed in it. Pastor Mike had said that when I started the sermon he wasn’t sure how we could cover all of that in one sermon but he thought it preached well. Pastor Mike seems to have the calling of a missionary. This trip certainly revived those feelings in my own life and I am sure God will once again open a door for us into the nations.
Our last day before leaving Guatemala started early with a caravan of two vehicles carrying us, the Rodriguez’ and the Moreno’s heading for the mountains of Guatemala to a certain lake surrounded by villages and volcanoes. This trip took us through the native Guatemalan areas. The scenery was breathtaking. The country side was checker boarded with small plots of cultivated land. The land is rich. At some points we could see from the carved out sections of land 3 to 5 ft of topsoil. Guatemala apparently is the breadbasket of Central America. This area was different from the sugar fields and the coffee plantations. These were the peasant farmers, who from what I gathered are not poor peasants in the normal sense of the word, they are prosperous farmers taking advantage of the two growing seasons and the rich soil. We stopped for a wonderful breakfast overlooking the cultivated plots that stretched out below us. Onto the lake for a quick tour, a boat ride on the lake and a lunch before heading home for my final sermon.
Had a touch of flu but did my best to avoid short timer’s disease and felt pleased to give my all in that last service. Joan, Mike and I sang “Amazing Grace” as a special song and I almost choked to death as I reached the high notes, so it made for a tough start to my sermon. We finished up with a final meal that night at Guatemala’s favorite: Pollo Campero. This was the first day that we had eaten 3 full meals. It was a full day. We had brought a combination of candy bars, pens, markers and such as gifts for the pastors we preached for. We had got a Barbie for Anna Marie. She got the gift and wrapped it up to open on Boxing day. Her statement was that now she knows she got a real Barbie and not one of those copies. The only problem was that I had bought it and it had a crank on its back to make Barbie move. So I will have to make that right. The next morning we were taken to the airport by most of the Rodriguez family we were given some parting gifts that pleased my wife and a flag that I will proudly display. Until next time.