Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Falling up into the Clouds |

At 8,150 feet above sea level the air seems to strip your bones.  I am surrounded by tiny, beautiful people, Mayan children of the highlands of Tecpan. Their dark hair, deep and shiny brown eyes, caramel skin, and traditional woven garmets rival the beauty of Michaelangelo. If the people of God are His church, then surely I sit in the Sistine Chapel.

I've been riding shotgun with a group of travelers from the US who wind the 2 hours up CA1 into the altitudinal air overlooking the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango. I have witnessed miracles. I have seen evidence of God.

The area we've entered is not open to English speaking white people from the U.S. We have been honored to enter it due to a fellowship between two men, Karvin Adams and Pastor Meynor. This week is an extension of fellowship from the first gathering of the Church of God Convention in Guatemala.

Rain falls in straight lines as our van sinks into the mud of the incline. The yellow country church rises from the landscape above us. The land rolls with hills and canyons atop the mountain. Corn grows here again in this soil that is scorched and painted by 60 years of gunfire, killings, and civil war. I step out of the vehicle and my boots sink into mud that still holds the persistent cold finger grip of those days.

Culvert project for drainage
Through the cool fog of the rain I see something else. I see remnants of men standing together with shovels and picks in hand. Guns and machetes have been laid down so that life can again take root. These men who would have defended this plot of land at that cost of my life a few years ago, are welcoming our small group of Gringos and Guatemaltecans as we prepare to labor together.

Over the past three days, a kitchen has risen from the earth, raised by hands of different skin tones, tongues of various languages (English, Spanish, Kaqchikel Maya), drawn together by common belief. We are all men and women seeking the face of God. 

We have found Him here in the mountain midst of our work. We see Him as we bridge culture, boundary, and history to meet eye to eye, hand to hand, shovel by shovel, and brick by brick as the kitchen rises, a stove is built, and rain falls on us all as sure as the rising son.

Three shirts and the leather jacket I bought five years ago on a clearance rack at Target, long before I thought of living in Guatemala, protect me from the damp, cool air as I sit on a wooden bench built by the men working outside. The air is filled with the sounds of one hundred children who experience Bible School from a group of dear ladies outside of their comfort zone inside of this block church.

A telling of the wise man who built his house on the rock is being taught around me with ballon and illustration and song. I am captivated by it as I think of this church that is built on the stone of this mountain. Outside the pastor, the men of his congregation, and the gathering of men from the Arkansas and Louisiana churches raise walls, a roof, and a massive stove that will feed thousands of meals. The rains come down and the floods come up as I listen to the pounding on the aluminum roof. Yes, the Church on the rock stands firm.

This region is known for livestock. We have packed in our standard lunches of PB&J sandwiches, Chiky Cookies, Tortrix corn chips, and a banana... but they will be given to children as we depart. Outside under the new awning and near the old, concrete pila stands a hand-made metal grill where strips of beef are roasted over carbon coals. Locally grown tomato, cucumber, spiny green chayote, blue corn grilled in the husk, lettuce, and a creamy pepper sauce are served with hand fired tortillas and local cheeses. We feast like warriors from centuries past.

The flavors are strong and delicious as I dig in with my hands and find a new level of brotherhood with the men while we break bread and the women serve a warm sweet corn mug as desert. Thoughts of whether or not I might be sick later have yielded to present enjoyment and total embrace of tradition, fellowship, and appreciation. I have dined in five star restaurants in New York, Chicago, Bejing, and Moscow... but never have feasted with such beauty and delight. I understand in this moment that this is the highest honor I have ever received. Gratitude overwhelms me as I can do nothing but smile, nod, and stuff my face.

My dear friend, Edgar takes me, along with Pastor Meynor of Tecpan and Pastor Karvin Adams of Louisiana, and we hike up the dirt and gravel road while rain streams off my trusty Minnetonka leather hat. We pass folks along the way, a young lady leading a cow, a man collapsed along the road after a night of drink, and children traveling home after school. We come to a place that has now forever altered how I view the world. 

A simple rectangular block structure is hewn into the side of the mountain. A steel tower rises from the back with a looped antenna on the top. This radio station was the rebel broadcast holdout during the civil war. This tower spread vital information at risk of death to the people of the villages that lived with the reality of genocide, torture, and misery. This beacon spread warnings, hope, and life. 

Today this tower transmits the message of the teachings of Jesus Christ through words and music. Like the decades past, it still broadcasts hope and life. Our group donates a lap top computer, a microphone, and a first aid kit. We stand in a hand-gripped prayer circle as the radio operator weeps in thanksgiving. We've found this place by accident... and yet it is apparent that a higher purpose is in place.

Broadcast Booth
The leader of our conference a week before hosts the Spanish version of Christian Brotherhood Hour, and we have his messages digitally linked for this station to play. We listen as we are told of the monthly expenses... and how this man raises broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce to sell in the market to make ends meet. What is a nearly insurmountable cost to him each week can be met by a monthly donation. The connections are made and suddenly this radio station with such a depth of history, that transmits the hope of Jesus, has gone for a future of uncertainty, to a reality of new equipment, fresh programming, and solid financial support.

None of this was our planning. We simply followed the suggestion of a pastor to come and see a small church in the highlands. By faith we led a team to come with us. Its like we are falling up into the clouds as we receive blessings from God who knows are needs, our resources, and the perfect fit with others... our brothers and sisters. 

This experience surpasses our existence. We have experienced the interaction of the divine. At the end of the week we stand in a circle, no longer Gringos and Guatemaltecans... but thankful and changed sons and daughters of God. The rain falls around us and the mist of the clouds that we stand in are as chilly as they were the day we first stepped into the mud off of the van... and yet, everything has changed. 

Beauty surrounds us. Hope beats in our chest. Our bellies are as full as our souls as collectively we breath in the beauty of our creator in this heavenly place.

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