The Light that Hurts and Heals

“Es muy triste,” Gloria said to me, her arms elbow deep in dishes in the backyard. Returning from Xela, I had been greeted at the door by her young son and then it was straight up the stairs to the kitchen and out to the back yard to announce my return. Finishing the dishes from lunch, Gloria had asked me about my trip, and I had told her that my head was full. I explained that I had talked to a lot of people at Cafe R.E.D. and learned a lot about coffee, immigration, deportation, and history.

“You learned the history of coffee or the history of Guatemala?” she had asked, and I had explained that it was the history of Guatemala. Then I told her about the book, Bitter Fruit, that Cesár had me read, and that it had explained to me how the United States had been involved in instigating and later funding the civil war in Guatemala. There was something special about that book, for it had opened the conversation up first for Cesár and I, and now for Gloria.

“Es muy triste,” she said. And then it all came pouring out, the book acting as a key to unlock what people were carrying. It was as if people wanted to talk about it with me, but without knowing that I understood at least the foundation, it was too big and too painful to explain to a novice who would only ask insensitive questions in stuttering Spanish and still be incapable of fully understanding. Knowing that I had now read over 300 pages of in-depth research on the topic, however, Gloria felt like she could talk about it… finally.

She told me that it had been a time of great sadness, and I felt in her words that this was the cause behind the sadness that always seemed to linger in the back of her eyes. She told me that it was a big part of the story both of her family and of Jose Felix’s family, that there were many, many stories that would take a lifetime to tell. She had grown up and raised her oldest children during the years when soldiers, funded with US military aid, patrolled the lake region, searching for indigenous guerrillas; from time to time raping women; assassinating or kidnapping community leaders; and, on occasion, massacring civilians in ethnically targeted actions.

She said that her mother used to cry and cry and plead with God for the safety of her three daughters. With all that the soldiers were doing to women in the area, it was her mother’s greatest fear that something would happen to her girls. Gloria did not say exactly what her mother was worried about, but a significant look exchanged between us and we understood one another. There are some things in life that women do not need words to communicate. Thanks be to God, they were protected.

The family lived in a rural part of the mountains, far away from others, and their father had died, leaving them without the protection of a man in the house. So they were always listening, always listening. Often they would hear the sound of gunfire at night. They would spend the night in darkness, only occasionally using the dim light of candles; trying not to be seen or to attract any notice. Learning to live life in silence, hoping to be invisible. It sounded like a terribly traumatic way to grow up.

After she and Jose Felix married, he experienced many terrifying things she said, while he was teaching in another region. Soldiers came and put guns to the heads of teachers where he was. It was a very dangerous time, and many teachers died throughout the decades. Teachers, along with priests, were people who empowered others, and thus were targets for assassination. She said she was not with him at the time. That they were living apart while she stayed in a safer area with their baby girls. It made sense now why the couple was such a serious pair. Why it seemed that everyone of their generation around here, with the exception of the jovial Vincente, was so serious.

She told me that Jose Felix had lost 3 cousins to the massacres and disappearances, and that she had lost 2 of her cousins. The loss of one cousin seemed to impact her in particularly. She kept saying that he was so intelligent and so full of promise. He sounded like he had been quite the “golden child” of the family. She said they never knew where he went, his body could be in the mountains or at the bottom of the lake. It reminded me of the stories Vincente had told me. She said that his father refused to give up looking for his brilliant son. From sun up to sun down he thought about him and searched for him. Once, she said, he heard that a corpse had been found and he rushed to the scene certain that it was his son. But it was not his son. His son was never to be found. Finally, one day, the father was found sitting in the street, appearing to be asleep with his arms folded. But he was not asleep, he had finally died there of a broken heart.

Just then Gloria’s son came running in, a toy motorcycle in each hand – one red and one black. He had waited until his little niece was not around to show them to me because he knew that nice toys did not fare well around the baby. Then he fetched his toy trucks and we ran them across the floor.

I finally understood what this ultimo hijo meant to this family. This last child, this unexpected child, this child born late in life, who might as easily be mistaken for a grandchild. This was a child that she had given birth to in freedom. This was a child that had come into her world during a time of peace. This peace-time child was an unexpected blessing. A child for whose safety she would not have to cry and plead with God for, as her mother had for hers.

This child was joy. This child was hope. This child was the fresh beginning that her husband sang about in his songs. It was possible, after all, for someone to exist who was completely untouched by the violence that had dominated their lives.

As we finished playing, I stood up and looking at Gloria said only “Gracias…. gracias.” And she understood.

I wandered around the streets of San Pedro for the rest of the day, feeling like a time bomb had gone off in my heart. Everything was so beautiful and so painful; so tragic and so hopeful; so sad and so joyful. I was reeling, like someone walking into the bright light of day after weeks in the dark – the light proving to be both beautiful and illuminating while also being a bit painful and difficult to adjust to.

I had let these people into my heart without knowing what they carried. And now I had to deal with processing what they had gone through.

I could feel that something about me was different. I had left the door to my heart wide open to them, and they had carried memories of such pain and such sorrow and such fear in with them; but they had also carried in all the healing and all the hope and all the strength that had helped them survive.

C.S. Lewis says that “to love is to be vulnerable….” I had been vulnerable with them and they had been vulnerable with me, and we would each carry a piece of each other on our journey forward.

It has been a year of feeling new things for the first time. That was the way it all started, and I feel sure that will be how it will all end. My heart is in training; for what, I do not yet know.

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The Kingdom of God is Like a Chicken Bus…

“This bus leaves at 10:30 am, and this one at 11:30 am,” the huddle of drivers explained to me in Spanish as I picked the 10:30 chicken bus and climbed on board. Drat, I had thought to myself, I was sure there was one that left at 10:00 am. Now I would have to spend an additional 45 minutes on this beautiful beast of a bus.

Chicken buses in Guatemala are cultural art forms. They look as if a group of street artists from California, got together with a bunch of chrome-addicts from the fifties, and a group of 80’s chicks gone crazy with their Bedazzlers. They are gorgeous and colorful and cheerful and imposing.

From the outside that is. Once you climb the stairs and find your seat, you discover what you knew all along – that this really is just an American school bus given a new lease on life. It is both an expression of the artistic soul, and the ultimate in reduce-reuse-recycle.

If I had any doubts on the subject, a school bus that was new to the crowd rolled up. It had not had time to become baptized and “born again” as a Guatemalan chicken bus, and so it still had “Shelby County Schools” painted in black block print on its marigold yellow side. I was pretty sure I had seen that bus before.

For that matter, I may very well have seen the bus I was sitting in before. For all I knew this was “West Chester 108,” the bus I had ridden throughout middle school and the beginning of high school.

I considered the fact that I was actually choosing to ride a school bus – a vehicle that had once been a terror to me.

When I was in high school, I was stuck riding the bus long after the rest of the kids in my class had cars of their own. It seemed like everyone but me had a car, whether it was decrepit cast off from a grandparent or a sparkling new Sweet 16 present. Sure, anyone could get a car, and if your parents did not buy you one, surely you could work and afford your own. That is if you did not also have to use that money to buy your school clothes while maintaining a high enough average to ensure the scholarships you not only wanted, but realistically needed to attend college.

So I rode that bus, West Chester 108… until that is, I was rescued. Her name was Lauren, and she was an old friend from church who had come to my school several years after I had started there in first grade. We led different lives, and ran in different crowds to some extent. But regardless of what may happen when I was out of her sight, nobody was going to bully me when she could do anything about it.

After hearing that some kids on the bus were picking on me, she declared that she was going to drive me to school. I was “on her way” broadly speaking… but not exactly. I am sure I added a good fifteen minutes to her commute. But every day, she would coming driving up my bumpy old driveway, and every day she would bring me back to my source. After classes, and after track practice, and after hockey games, home we would go together. I knew that with all that I went through as a “scholarship kid”, there was someone pretty cool who thought I was pretty special and who always had my back. When she knew I was having a hard week missing my boyfriend, who had graduated and gone to Georgia for college, she left some flowers at my locker like he would have done. She even got all her friends to vote me in for a Senior Superlative – “Best Eyes” – an assessment that the people of San Pedro seem to affirm at a fairly constant rate.

A good fifteen years after she started driving me, and just six months ago in our current story, I had heard of another friend who was tired of riding the bus. I was on Eleuthera at the time, and was seeing pretty persistent posts online from one of my close friends about the trials and tribulations of using public transportation to get to work. I knew that I would not have much use for my car this year, being out of the country so much. So, I thought about what Lauren would have done: I sent her a message telling her to go and get my car from my sister in DC.

You see, I finally had a car, a beautiful red one too. Very sacramental. Although, I had been told by other pastors, not ideal for funerals. Being somewhat concerned that they made their automobile choices based on what looks good in a cemetery, I responded that I did not plan to spend much of my life there. I bought the car during a brief period of years in my life when I thought that I would be “normal.” This was the same period of time in which – with illusions of normality – I had bought a beautiful dining room table, a big heavy slab of environmentally conscious mango wood; with the dream that someday my grandchildren would make crafts upon its old worn wood surface.

So now, while I live and learn in Guatemala, my friend drives my beautiful red Esperanza to work instead of taking the bus. Why? Because once upon a time someone very kind and loving taught me that if you have got an empty seat, you should fill it with someone who needs it.

Lauren taught me that love does not just “say,” love also “does.”

She is a beautiful example of God’s abundance.

Fifteen years later, in Guatemala, the vibrantly colorful buses feel different than the ones I used to avoid. Part endurance test, and part carnival, they are the most popular way to get around the country. Which is why I actually choose to ride the bus here, much to my friend Delia’s chagrin.

Today, enroute from Xela to San Pedro, I was learning a whole new meaning to the word “abundance,” and a whole new definition to “empty seats” as we packed into them. First it was one person to a seat; then it was two; then it was three full grown adults; then a child on a lap, or perhaps an actual chicken, would bring the count to four. The aisles would fill until it felt the bus could hold no more, and then more would squeeze into it.

It began to feel as if the bus was a living thing. When we stopped at a town, you could feel it breath a deep sigh of relief and relax for a moment as a torrent of people poured out. But almost as quickly you could feel it draw its breath back in sharply as it saw the incoming hordes, and loosen its belt in preparation to contain them all.

For, you see, just as in Lauren’s car, there was always room for more. No matter how many people were squeezed into the bus, there was not a chance that someone was going to be told that it was full. There is no such thing as a full chicken bus. If you beg to differ, then you can get off and find another way to get to where you are going.

And a chicken bus is packed to the brim with people of every kind and color and background. Extraños (foreign aliens) looking for a cheap way to get around the country. City dwelling Ladinos in designer jeans headed to the lake for the weekend. Mayan women in ropa typica, heading home from the market and traveling with babies strapped to their backs. Old men grumbling about the seating arrangements, and small children staring wide eyed at all the different people surrounding them. Everyone mixed together – crammed together in one big noisy, laughing, pushing, shifting heap; talking to each other, helping each other, even enduring each other.

As it says in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 13, “The kingdom of God is like a chicken bus…”

Okay, maybe it does not say that… but don’t you think it should?

My first excited encounter with a chicken bus!
My first excited encounter with a chicken bus!
Kids climb all over in a chicken bus
Kids climb all over in a chicken bus
Abuelas happy to finally get a seat to themselves as the bus empties out
Abuelas happy to finally get a seat to themselves as the bus empties out

This land is my land?

“It has been a really hard week,” he said. I had met Giovanni “Phenomenon” Lopez, a multi-talented boxer and rapper, in Xela, on the fourth anniversary of his deportation. He had been brought to the United States at the age of two; then at the age of twenty four, after spending his whole life as an American, his “country” had thrown him out. And that is exactly how it had felt at first, like his family had dumped him out on the street and locked the door behind him. He had to say goodbye to California and to the only life he had ever known.

Deportation can feel like death at first. That is exactly what drives Willy and the people of DESGUA as they strive to help their countrymen see that deportation is not death, but rather, a whole new opportunity to live life free and without fear. Young men like Giovanni were exactly the type of people that Cafe R.E.D. and DESGUA had in mind when they had opened their doors. People who felt like their life had been taken from them – and therefore feeling like they were dead, or like they might as well be. Instead DESGUA wanted to offer them the message – welcome home; we need you here; we are glad you are back; there is so much we can do together.

Their work in Guatemala to welcome back deportees is the beautiful mirror of the work that Welcoming Congregations do in the States to welcome immigrants. A welcome sign hung on both sides of the border, to let people know that it is not where they are but who they are that is important. And who they are will always be a person worthy of respect and love.

Willy and Cafe R.E.D. had done a lot to give Giovanni a place of belonging, to teach him to be proud of his ancestry and to empower him to be an inspiration to others. But there are still hard weeks, and this was one of them. Realizing that it was now four years since his life in the States had been interrupted was bringing his spirits low. Missing a few days at the gym and a rap performance near the lake had been the casualties of the emotions weighing on him that week as he contemplated all he had lost. As much of a fighter as he was, it was hard not to think of all the ways that his deportation had changed his life and altered his opportunities. It was hard to see guys he had sparred with getting scheduled for big fights, and not to think “That could have been me.”

Looking at him, I knew it really could have been him; I couldn’t help but mourn all that he had lost and all that we had lost in losing him.

But it isn’t easy victories that form champions, it is struggle. And Giovanni is a champion.

“I just don’t feel like I am supposed to be one of those guys, standing on the corner, with his arms crossed. Giving up.” Giovanni knew that he had a mission and a calling to inspire others and to overcome. That is why he had named his latest album “Underestimated” and rapped songs with titles like “Heart of a Champion” and “Niños de la calle.”

If he was going to inspire others by overcoming, however, he had to live it out. And some days were harder than others.

“We all have hard weeks,” I said, “that does not mean that this is what your life is going to be like now. You missed some appointments, it was a hard week. You got to go easy on yourself and get back in the ring. It is just like in boxing, you have got to keep moving. The bell rings, you sit down and take a break, but then you have got to get back in there and keep moving.”

“Yes,” he laughed, “Otherwise I am going to get a big punch to the face.”

There was not a doubt in my mind that this young man had what it took to get back in the ring and win. There was not a doubt in my mind that he would inspire others and was capable of being a profoundly positive example. And there was also no doubt in my mind that he would be a benefit to any country that he called home. And, however painful the method of bringing him here had been, Guatemala needed him.

Sitting in Cafe R.E.D. I could not help but think of another conversation in another coffee shop in Guatemala. I had sat in a Cafe in San Pedro a couple weeks before with a young man named James from Great Britain. He updated me on the situation of the Anglican Church in England and I shared with him some of our struggles in the States.

“You can say, for better or for worse, that all Caucasians are immigrants,” he said in response to my comments about the overlap between racism and immigration in the United States. “And you can say Caucasians don’t have the right to call it their land,” he continued, “but they did create that world and the culture that they are trying to protect. It did not exist before they got there. They made it; therefore, it is theirs.” Listening to the young British man in the coffee shop in San Pedro, I had never heard the white supremacy argument stated so innocently. It was like a slow curve ball floating down towards home plate, and then twisting off at the last minute.

I was in no way convinced. Even more so, talking to Giovanni now at Cafe R.E.D., I knew that there is something very wrong with a system that prioritizes privilege and leaves young women and men feeling cast out and rejected.

There is a bigger issue here than how to diminish deportations. The bigger question, the one that Willy and Giovanni and Cesár are working to answer, is: how do we create a world that is more holistically just?

How do we create a world where neither immigration on the one hand, nor deportation on the other, seems like the only option to people on either side?

Here’s the way the world works now. Americans believe in equal pay for equal work and a living wage. American businesses, on the other hand, believe in profit. In order to pay our “Made In America” wages, businesses incur a higher cost of production and, thus, a lower level of profit. Therefore, in pursuit of profit, they leave America; they close down factories in Scranton or Detroit or Fort Smith (Arkansas). They outsource their customer service and they build new factories in countries where the wages are less. Meanwhile, those new countries see local industry and production impacted, as well as rapidly depleting mineral and human resources. Locals see that the best coffee, the best bananas, the best of everything does not stay in their country, but gets sent to America. They drink the inferior coffee and eat the smaller bananas, while producing superior versions of both for the magical land of America, or Japan, or France.

In addition to that, we seem to invite the immigrant to feel like they belong in that world through our actions of cultural colonization. We have made everyone feel like they are, or should be, an American – by selling them American clothes and American movies.

“The U.S. way of life is introduced to all the people as the way of life. Commercial enterprises quickly sell the trimmings of this way of life to the local people, thus enticing them to become “American,” although simple economics makes this next to impossible and U.S. immigration laws generally prevent it. Thus the love-hate relationship continues to develop and local cultures continue to be threatened. Their people are not allowed to migrate to the US, but the exterior trimmings of the U.S. way of life are sold to them and replace their own products” (Elizondo, The Future is Mestizo,97).

So what do the people in other nations do? Well of course they want to go there – to America – where people eat the best produce and wear clothes first-hand and receive a fair living wage; where maybe they will be able to save enough money to return home and build a little house.

And what do immigrants from Central America find when they get there? They find that James from Great Britain was right. That this world of equal pay and living wages is not for them. They finds that the white people who “built this country” want to protect it from people “like them.” They find that people who have lost their jobs due to US outsourcing, somehow blame them for “taking their jobs.” They find that they are forced to do menial labor that no one else wants to do, in sometimes hazardous conditions, and that people still blame them for taking “their job.”

So why do they keep coming? As Father Virgil Elizondo says in The Future is Mestizo, “The quest for survival is much strong than any human law against migration” (98).

That is exactly what makes people like Giovanni and the powerful music he creates as Phenomenon so incredibly important; because it makes youth in Guatemala hold their heads up high with pride. That is exactly what makes Cesár and his dreams of creating fair trade production for differently-abled deportees so important; because he tells people who think their life is over that instead it has just begun. That is exactly what makes Willy’s determination to educate deportees and immigrants to understand and be proud of their country so vital; because it tells them that they are people of incredible worth and heritage already, and do not need to go anywhere else to “become somebody” because they already are somebody.

The work being done at Cafe R.E.D. is so important because it contradicts British James’ superiority mindset and sends people the message: We can survive right where we are. We can thrive right where we are. We are enough.

In order to create a just world, we have to begin by contradicting the myth that the American life is superior and to be desired by all. People in Guatemala need examples like Phenomenon to look up to; people who have overcome hardship and gotten back in the ring.

As we finished our coffee, I told Giovanni that I needed to go in search of some items for a friend back in San Juan. He walked me out of Cafe R.E.D. and down the block towards the Parque Central. When we reached the park, he gave me a hug as we parted ways and said, “I’m going this way… I’ve got to get back in the ring today.”

Yes, Giovanni, I thought, watching him walk away, thousands of kids around Guatemala need you to get back in the ring today. They are counting on you. They need you to help them build their Guatemalan Dream.

Esta tierra es tu tierra, esta tierra es mi tierra
Desde California a la isla Nueva York
Desde el bosque de secuoyas rojas, hasta las aguas corrientes del golfo
Esta tierra fue creada para tí y para mí.

…Desde las calles de Xela a las playas de California
Desde los pueblos de la Laguna Atitlan a la Cataratas del Niágara
Esta tierra fue creada para tí y para mí….

*Featured photo courtesy of http://www.reverbnation.com/giovannilopez, video courtesy of DESGUA.org Look out for Phenomenon’s new album Underestimated, coming soon!

An Education in Grace

“Pero el pueblo de los Estados Unidos no sabían, era que el gobierno (But the people of the United States did not know, it was the government),” Cesár said quizzically, in what I can only describe as one of the most natural acts of grace I have ever experienced. It was as if absolution of national inequities was something that the jefe of Cafe R.E.D. offered on a daily basis. In a way, he did; at least insofar as he worked each day to create opportunities that would restore hope, humanity, and dignity to those who had felt stripped of those things through deportation.

It was not deportation we were discussing, however. I need to start a little further back in the story for you to understand.

The day before, Miercoles (Wednesday), I had taken two different chicken buses, weaving their tortuous way up and down the mountains of Guatemala, in order to get to Xela for the Board Meeting of DESGUA at Cafe R.E.D. I had met Cesár, the Manager of Cafe R.E.D., and the other board members and then shared lunch with them.

After the meeting dispersed, Cesár and I sat in red chairs at the back of Cafe R.E.D. while I peppered him with questions. I tried hard to be understood in my still developing Español, and he tried equally hard to get me to understand his quite eloquent Español.

The final question that I had asked was what in the history of his nation had given him hope and joy. He had answered that it was what had happened in 1945. He told me that before that women had no rights and after that, women had rights.

Ah, yes, I had agreed. It was the same in the United States. Before the World Wars, we had not worked in factories etc., but after that we had jobs and some women desired to stay in them. I explained to him that I understood how war can change culture and open the way for women.

He tried again. Again I failed to understand.

Finally he raised a finger to indicate that he would be right back and returned with a 300 page, dense historical piece called Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, a piece written by Americans and published through Harvard University Center on Latin American Studies. He smiled warmly, confident that now I would understand what he was talking about.

…all I had to do was read a 300 page historical investigation…

*Ahem* – 30 hours later, after I had read the book, written and posted 2 blogs on other topics, and engaged in some delicate vocational communications – our conversation could continue.

I understood now why he had given me the book. He had given me the book because I had asked him what had given him hope for his country, and I had not been able to understand his answer.

I had not been able to understand because I knew about the war in Guatemala, but I was not schooled in the reforms that had preceded the instigation of the war. I was not familiar with the reforms that had been inspired by the United States’ Franklin D. Roosevelt; the reforms that had given the people hope, but that had given American businesses operating in Guatemala fear that they would have less profits. I was not familiar with the fact that they had decided that their right to profit was greater than the Guatemalans right to independence, self determination, and – in the end – life. It was worth a few deaths, or what turned out in the end to be a few hundred thousand deaths, in order to protect the ability of American businesses to profit on foreign soil.

To be clear, United Fruit lobbied, propagandized and finally offered the initial funding, in order to get the United States military to help plan and stage a coup that destabilized the fledgling Guatemalan democracy and led to a 30 year civil war; which led to the massacres of indigenous people in the Mayan communities around Lake Atitlan, where I have been living, as well as the assassination of priests and Bishops that supported the indigenous guerrillas.

This action on the part of the United States took a great deal from the Guatemalan people; as I knew from hearing about the people that had been killed or “disappeared” from the community where I had been living for the past month.

But in that moment as I told Cesár that I had finished the book and handed it back to him, what was really affecting me was the fact that we had taken something from him. I had asked Cesár what gave him the most pride and joy about his country’s history, and his answer – which I now understood to be the Constitution of 1945 – had been something that my country had taken away from the people of Guatemala.

The Constitution, lost in the negotiations of the US instigated coup, had given the people of Guatemala term limits for elected officials, guaranteed freedom of the speech and of the press, equal pay for men and women, and the criminalization of racial discrimination. The part that had caused US intervention was land reforms that would allow unused, fallow land to be farmed by the people of Guatemala, thereby interrupting the United Fruit banana monopoly.

It was like the parable that the prophet Nathaniel told to King David; the story of the rich man who has many flocks of his own, but who instead takes the one small lamb that is the most precious and beloved thing that the poor man has. That is how I felt in that moment; like we had taken Cesár’s lamb.

Why? Because the businesses of the United States believe they have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And our big businesses are willing to pursue happiness at the cost of the life, liberty and happiness of others. We feel we have the need, and sometimes the divine right, to enter other countries and take what we want, and leave them with nothing. But if people from other countries come into our country and try to take home a few hundred dollars through hard labor, we arrest them and send them home in poverty.

Why? Because what we do to them is legal, and what they do to us is not legal. Why? Because we wrote the laws. We wrote the laws both in their countries and in our country. We bought the law.

With all that feeling welling up in me, and filling me with shame, all Cesár could do was look at me with confusion and say – “But the people of the United States did not know, it was the government.”

Oh. So that is what grace is. I am not sure if I ever really understood before.

It was not the first time, nor I am sure will it be the last, that I have been absolutely brought to my knees by the amazing capacity of the Guatemalan people to forgive. To forgive one another. To forgive us. To return greed with generosity, and to offer compassion when they have experienced cruelty.  I am simply not familiar with what it is like to live in a nation that does not feel the need to avenge every wrong or perceived wrong committed against it.

When I was in seminary they taught me something called exegesis. An exegetical method of learning, and then preaching, that tries to listen to the spirit and to the scriptures and to hear what the text is trying to say, rather than approaching it with an agenda and telling it what to say. Dr. Ellen Davis, in particular, changed my approach when she taught me first to pray, then to read the scriptures, then to read them again, and again, before finally going to the text books and the interpretations.

Here in Guatemala, I have received an exegesis from the people of this country. I have learned their history backwards. I have come in with little knowledge, and loved the people. I have heard their stories, and their experiences. I have cried with them until we laughed, and laughed with them until we cried. I have heard what it was like for one to flee for their life, for another to fight for his. Then, finally, I have heard the more academic version; I have read the history, searching for where the people I love fit in it; letting them be a part of my learning and partners in the conversation.

I learned a long time ago that you cannot listen if you already have all the answers.

Well, for a student of history, I had even less answers than I thought I did before Cesár took up the task of educating me.

And for a woman of the cloth, I had less understanding of the grace that my church is built upon than I realized; because I had not been offered enough grace by the church, I needed to encounter Cesár to know what it felt like.

Something in me almost wanted Cesár to harbor anger against me, as if that would lessen the pain of my own internal conviction.

But it just was not in him. He just wanted me to understand. He just wanted me to know.

“…el pueblo de los Estados Unidos no sabían…” he had said to me.

Well, now we do know. What are we going to do about it?

Will we have more compassion towards people from Central America who are living in the United States, when we take the time to think about the political and financial reasons that may have brought them there – and what our nation has done to contribute to those situations. Will we have the courage and the motivation to take action to speak to our nation and communities about how we treat others, and push our government to give Central Americans the justice and mercy in immigration that we have failed to show them in foreign policy?

Or perhaps you are interested in what is being done on this side of the border? Well Cesár has a dream. He has heard that some Guatemalans who have been deported are trapped in Mexico because they became disabled during their immigration or deportation and have no way to support themselves if they come home. He wants there to be a place in Guatemala where disabled deportees can work and live in dignity; he wants to be able to tell them there is a place for them and that they should come home. Maybe there is some way you can help him. Maybe your business can buy whatever products this crazy dream of his produces.

Or maybe when you hear of a person who is being deported – even though they were brought to the United States when they were only two, have lived there for more than twenty years, and know no other life – you can say with the same grace that Cesár said to us – but they did not even know.

As we meditate on these questions, here are some of the faces of those who have forgiven us.

Women in ropa typica sing behind the Semana Santa processionals around Lake Atitlan
Women in ropa typica sing behind the Semana Santa processionals around Lake Atitlan
Watching the Semana Santa processions at Lake Atitlan with my friends Esther and Faustina
Watching the Semana Santa processions at Lake Atitlan with my friends Esther and Faustina
An elderly Mayan woman is helped down the street by her grandson
An elderly Mayan woman is helped down the street by her grandson

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A woman walks alone through the Semana Santa celebrations around Lake Atitlan
A woman walks alone through the Semana Santa celebrations around Lake Atitlan
A Mayan man leads the Semana Santa procession as he has for many years
A Mayan man leads the Semana Santa procession as he has for many years

Every Nation Has the Right to Dream

“We decided that Guatemalans have a right to a dream as well. All the world wants to go to America and have ‘The American Dream,’ but why should Americans be the only ones with a dream? We have a Guatemalan Dream.” Willy, Claudia and Ubaldo were explaining to me the passion that had led to the founding of DESGUA (Desarollo Sostenible Para Guatemala). It had all started in New York, when Guatemalans living there realized that they did not have to come to America to build a dream. Therefore, they returned to Guatemala to begin the work of DESGUA and to open Cafe R.E.D.

My mind rushed back to another lunch I had shared in Haiti, when I had sat with the similarly named Willio and heard him explain to me his Haitian Dream. He had explained that he was not a proponent of having Americans adopt the children out of his orphanage in Haiti because he needed their gifts and hearts and minds; because Haiti needed their gifts and hearts and minds; because Haiti needed Haitians to build the Haitian Dream. No one else could build it for them and no amount of money – although money helps – could make it happen without the involvement and empowerment of the children that he was raising. “More people, more hope” was his motto. The more people who felt loved, educated, and empowered, the better chance they had at making the Haitian Dream a reality. To send their “best” to the United States was to perpetuate the myth that it is only in America that you have the right to dream.

Here in Xela, Guatemala, Willy was explaining a similar philosophy to me. He explained that people who immigrate to the United States often feel like deportation is death, and that their dream is dead. He sees it differently, however. He believes that every land can be the land of opportunity, if people are working and striving for justice. “When I was in the States, I felt like a caged chicken. Here I am free range,” he joked with me. That is why, after becoming well known for making documentaries about immigration and deportation, Willy took his United States Residency card and ripped it up to stand in solidarity with the deported and to show people that he was serious about building a dream in the country of his birth.

The action of dreaming can be cast, by the “realistic” and the “pragmatic,” as an act of weakness or naivete. But the act of dreaming, much like the act of hoping, is the strongest and most difficult and most necessary action in our world. Without dreamers, nothing changes.

And, yes, I know that there are many people who would like for nothing to change, because they are the ones who have more at the loss of those who have less.

Unfortunately, from the very beginning, the “land of opportunity” built that opportunity for some upon the backs of others. First the backs of the indigenous Native Americans, and then when they proved insufficiently resistant to Western diseases, upon the backs of imported slaves from Africa. Then concurrent with slavery, and since its abolition, it has been built upon wave after wave of immigrants from around the world that have come with the hope that they would win what is the lottery of American opportunity.

Despite their grand words and good intentions, many of the nation’s founders believed the right of white Christians to dream – of religious freedom and a better life – was greater than the rights of the rest of the world to dream and to thrive and to live. They believed that the right of white Christian men to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was worth building upon the “death, enslavement, and despairing sorrow” of others.

They pursued their own liberty while their fellow humans struggled in plantation fields and indigenous reservations. While their pursuit of their own liberty led to the contagious awakening of the revolutionary spirit among people of every kind, it is impossible to conclude that they intended to create the freedom of others.

More time would be needed, and more voices would need to enter the conversation, before people started to realize that we can build a communal dream together – that one person’s dream does not need to be built upon the destruction of another person’s dream.

Yes, it is definitely possible for anyone to succeed and have a beautiful life in the United States. Yet, there are systems in place that rig that lottery in favor of some over others.

The realization, then, that one can “dream” just as easily in the nation of their birth is a liberating realization indeed.

We need look no further than Romans 8 to see that every part of creation has the right and ability to dream. That every part of creation has the ability to long and to hope, not only for the kingdom of God that lies in their future, but also for the inbreaking of that kingdom into their own lives now. Every person in every nation has been given the blessing and the burden to long for the “already but not yet”; every nation has been given the ability to work to create a world that would please God’s heart. A world where the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and no one has more than any other.

As Romans 8 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

The whole creation is breathing in and breathing out the breaths of its birthing pains. Happy are we who are blessed to know with confidence that a better day is coming, and now has already begun.

Happy as well are we who through the vision of the scriptures are given the ability to see that in God’s vision, we are “one whole creation” – we are not divided by borders and walls and categories. We are simply “the whole creation” and “the children of God.”

Yet, there are still many children of God who feel it necessary to protect the “land of opportunity” from other children of God.

It seems that in the face of the monolithic power and pervasive allure of empires like the United States, each nation must find its own Moses’s. Women and men who can contradict the lie that only in the place of power is opportunity possible. People who can work to make that opportunity possible in their own land.

Bringing my mind back to Guatemala, and the beautiful courtyard of Cafe R.E.D., I continued to listen to the vision explained. Red might mean communist in America, but in Guatemala, Red is understood in the Spanish meaning of the word, rather than the English meaning of the word. In Spanish the word rojo means red, while the word red means network. So a red cafe is a cafe seeking to build networks.
(I am not naive, there is an allusion to socialism; but if you study the history of Guatemala, you’ll understand how a socialist democracy trying to follow the model of FDR was confused with Communism in the model of Stalin, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples in actions initiated by the United States, and funded initially by American fruit businesses operating in Guatemala and threatened by economic reforms… more in the next blog.)

Here at Cafe R.E.D., it was also an acronym for the three parts of their work: R was Restaurante, E was Educación, and D was Deposito.

Those were the three methods that DESGUA and Cafe R.E.D. was using to work to make the country a land of opportunity for immigrants returning to Guatemala after deportation. To help them to feel proud of who they are and where they are from. To help them to understand that every nation has the right to dream.

God sees the world without borders. God sees people as no more important on one side of a border than another and no more in need of protection, love and justice.

For those who have claimed the United States to be “The New Jerusalem”, the new people of the promise, the new chosen people – it may be in our best interests to look at the real story of those who are truly the people of the Promise. The people of Israel, whom God has used to tell the story of God’s love and reveal to the world God’s identity. They were and they are some of the greatest dreamers that the world has ever known. And they have dreamed on and on and on through more heartbreak than most of us could bear. Their story has been more similar over the course of history to that of the long-suffering people of Guatemala than it has been to the manifest destiny policies of the United States that were derived from the early parts of the nation of Israel’s story.

Every nation has the right to dream. The world, however, will be a better place if we learn to dream of justice and community and solidarity and peace. The American Dream has begun to ring false to so many people because it has gone from being an escape, from oppression to liberty, to being a pursuit of possessing more “stuff.”

Every nation has the right to dream. So dream big dreams. Dream like Martin Luther King, Jr. Dream like Mother Theresa. Dream like Nelson Mandela. Do not dream of “stuff.” Do not dream of “things.” They have not made Americans happy, and they will not make you happy either.

Dream instead of love and justice and equality. Dream of a world without lines and divisions and inequalities. Dream that you can do things differently.

That is what the people at Cafe R.E.D. do every day. They have decided that it is not only possible to create “The American Dream” in Guatemala; they have decided that it is possible to do something even better – to create the “Guatemalan Dream.”

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Part of the mission of Cafe R.E.D. is to bring honor to the often misunderstood street artist community. Therefore the interior of the Cafe is a gallery of sorts. This mural, painted in collaboration with jovenes, tells the story of Guatemala's past and their dream for its future.
Part of the mission of Cafe R.E.D. is to bring honor to the often misunderstood street artist community. Therefore the interior of the Cafe is a gallery of sorts. This mural, painted in collaboration with jovenes, tells the story of Guatemala’s past and their dream for its future.

Learning to speak love in her language

“oxlajuj baktun es nueva oportunidad… de los Garifunas y de los Xincas, de los Ladinos y del pueblo Maya…” This moment – all by itself – solamente – was worth the trip to Guatemala.

For days I had been struggling to understand the recent and ancient history of Guatemala, and where the people I cared about fit within it. For days, as well, Jose had been telling me that he wanted to teach me to play his songs on my guitar and take them back to Los Estados Unidos with me.

We finally had found the time. I had tuned my guitar in my little room on top of the house, and returned downstairs to find Jose sleeping while his son worked on memorizing his catechism for his First Communion in October. I gently placed my guitar next to Jose so that he would see it when he awakened. A noise startled him and the gentle man, a Mayan by birth and a teacher by trade, opened his eyes and smiled to see the guitar. It was time.

He retrieved the first song that he wanted to teach me, a mixture of Tz’utujil and Español. It spoke of the year 2013, the time when the Mayan calendar ended but the world did not. Therefore, it presented a vision glorious of the new opportunity that all the people, plants, and animals of his country now had to begin life anew.

It was the last two lines that revealed that his heart for his people was like my heart for my people – speaking of the four main ethnic groups of Guatemala moving forward united. Through music, we began to understand one another.

For people like Jose and Gloria, their country had been in a civil war for more years of their lives than it was at peace. That cruel 30 year war had led to the Guatemalan government being condemned for atrocious human rights violations and ethnic massacres against the Mayan people, and to the disappearances and deaths of countless community leaders and priests.

I would not have been able to understand why the last lines of Jose’s song were so important if my teacher had not taught me that morning about the word “Ladino.” She had told me that Gloria was a Ladino; and then, of course, I insisted that she explain to me what that meant. And, of course, we had an hour long conversation about oppression, and discrimination, and everything that she learned in the sociology class she took in Panachel.

In its most simple definition, a Ladino is a non-white Spanish-speaking person… which would be the demographic of those that the Mayans fought against in the 30 year war.

At lunch, I spent quite some time trying to think of both the vocabulary and the non-intrusive method of confirming my teacher’s statement that Gloria was a Ladino. I finally turned to Jose and asked him why the family preferred to speak Spanish in the house rather than Tz’utujil.

“Esta por Gloria” (it is for Gloria), Jose said glancing lovingly over at the wooden stove where his wife was creating her own music, the constant pat-pat of tortillas made by hand. My teacher had described her as being “de la cuidad” (from the city) as the explanation for why she spoke Spanish and did not wear the ropa typica of the Mayan. I knew very well, however, that Gloria had grown up on a coffee farm in a rural area; that both her parents had died when she was a teenager, near the beginning of the 30 year war; and that she had married young to Jose, a handsome Mayan boy that played on her brother’s soccer team; and that he would become a teacher while she raised their four children.

I understood now why Gloria had responded with what seemed like sadness when I had commented that her family seemed modern. In this community, being “modern” – dressing in American style clothing, speaking Spanish, and having educated daughters that worked full-time – was what had always made her different. Like the person who has lived in a small Maryland town for fifty years, but people still refer to as a “come-here”, she was definitely a part of the community but also always on the margin.

The world is one in which people seem always to seek difference, and then use those points of difference to create division, and use that division to consolidate power, and use that power to oppress the “other.” Many times that has taken the form of dividing people based on appearance and the color of their skin. But ever since the Tower of Babel, we have also been divided by language. And ever since the people of Gilead used the pronunciation of the word “Shibboleth” to determine whether a person was on their side or an enemy refugee to kill (Judges 12), we have been discriminating against people based on language.

In Guatemala, the Ladinos in the government – people who were either non-indigenous or were indigenous people who had adapted to Western ways and language – spent decades in military conflict with the indigenous forces. Sometimes it was nothing more than language and cultural mindset that separated them, and not any difference of appearance or ethnicity.

In South Africa, during Apartheid, the Afrikaaners attempted to force the indigenous speakers of Zulu and Xhosa to speak Afrikaans in school and found themselves with a protest on their hands, and responded with a slaughter.

In the United States the language associated with those experiencing oppression has shifted with time. Many waves of immigrants – from Germany, Poland, China and the Ukraine – have rushed to lose their language and give it up for English; have rushed to eliminate the part of their identity that marked them for discrimination. Currently, the language most associated with discrimination in the United States is Spanish. For many reasons, people are not rushing to give it up so quickly.

In the meantime, to be white and speak Spanish in the United States attracts the attention of employers; to be non-white and speak Spanish attracts the attention of the authorities. One situation compounding privilege, the other compounds oppression.

It does not follow, however, that people of privilege in the United States should not learn Spanish or other languages common in their communities. I know from more than three weeks of being surrounded by non-English speakers that it can be isolating to not be able to tell people who you truly are, what you truly care about, and what your story is.

Even if you are trying to learn the language, as many people are trying to learn English in the States, unless someone really slows down their speech and really listens to yours – you still cannot understand despite all your labors. Whether they are speaking Spanish slowly for you, or you are speaking English slowly for them, it is necessary to break with our normal rhythm in order to express genuine interest.

Without the ability to communicate, we will miss seeing the common ground upon which we must build the foundation of the beloved community; because knowing one another’s stories, and sharing one another’s joys and sorrows is still the best way to build.

Within their family, Jose has spoken Spanish “for Gloria” to create a space that is safe and loving; after having asked her to marry him and move into a community where nearly all of the conversation took place in Tz’utujil; during a time 30 years ago when those who spoke Tz’utujil were at war with the Ladino leadership of the nation. An unusual marriage for the time.

These days, discrimination still exists; if you go to the city, it will be difficult to get a job if you insist on wearing the ropa typica of the Mayan and speaking your indigenous language, rather than becoming a Ladino and wearing Western clothes.

Here in the community of the Mayan, on the other hand, you will be loved but will always be a little different if you do not wear the ropa typica and speak Tz’utujil.

So Jose dreams of a day of unity and an end of discrimination of any kind.

He has chosen to write and sing about unity between the Ladinos and the pueblo Mayan.

He has chosen to spend his life as a teacher, setting an example for decades of children that being Mayan means being proud of your own ancestry, but also inclusive of others. “Todos somos iguales” – We are all equal.

And in his home, the multilingual teacher has chosen to speak love in the language that his wife understands best.

Language can create division where no division needs to exist, which is exactly why overcoming that barrier can be so powerful. It is a wall that can hold back a flood of stories, and prayers, and dreams, and worries, and joy, and love. When that wall falls and the flood rushes in, we find true solidarity.

After my guitar lessons, the rain fell heavy on the roof of Jose and Gloria’s house where I lived, and I sat in the dim light of the kitchen downstairs. I finally had enough Spanish to have more “real” conversations with Gloria. She asked me what she had been wondering, after watching my behavior for weeks – was I something like a sacerdote (priest)? She then asked me if the next move of my calling would take me a great distance from my family. The wall crumbled as I said that I was and that it would, and we cried together as I admitted for the first time how painful that was for me and how important my family truly is to me; and as we realized that soon I must leave this place as well.

Two people who would always be a “little bit different” in their communities, because of how they talked; who would always love the communities where they lived, while missing the communities from which they emerged; two people finding solidarity, empathy and profoundest respect as the wall of language fell.

Like her husband Jose, I had learned to speak love in her language.

As a nation, as a church, as individuals, can we not learn to speak love in one another’s language?

Can we not say “Bienvenidos” as we work to make sure it is true?

 

The Cost of the Calling

“He was an American,” my friend Faustina said to me as I stood in front of the spot where the heart of Father Stanley Francis Rother was buried at La Iglesia de Santiago Atitlan. I could not have imagined what she had in store for me when she had said “Hannah, ¿Te gusta caminar en la Iglesia?” Just another church, I thought, for I’d been in dozens, since I arrived in Guatemala. But this one was different.

As I read the plaque on the wall, my face changed rapidly as I understood the importance of where I stood. In 1981, it informed me, a year before I had been born, Father Rother had been assassinated in the rectory by armed men. Decades of violence had plagued the area during its 30 year civil, and Father Rother had been trying to protect his flock, sheltering families in the church at night.

A wave of emotions washed over me. I remembered the first time I had seen the life sized photograph of a priest being shot and falling into a mass grave when I was at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. That was the first time I had experienced this emotion – the weight, and responsibility, and danger of my calling. The first real awareness that my life is not my own, and its length is not guaranteed. The first time I had realized that sometimes the only thing a priest has left to do is to die with their people. It was then that I realized that if the church is a ship, then we are the ones with the responsibility to go down with if it.

I thought of Sowetto, where I had entered the Cathedral there and seen the bullet holes in the walls and the cracks in the altar, bearing witness to the screams of children that had filled that place. The bullet holes in the cement had not been able to heal as holes in flesh do; they were wounds left untended in order speak in silence. They bore witness to the fact that governments do not always respect the church, and that our role of offering sanctuary to the afflicted is not always guaranteed. On June 16, 1976, five years before Rother’s death, the children of Sowetto had marched against their Afrikaaner Apartheid rulers. They had tried to force the children to speak Afrikaans, their dutch-derived language, in their school, and the children refused, led by the high schoolers. As the children marched, soldiers came and opened fire on them. The children ran into the Catholic Cathedral, Regina Mundi, for sanctuary. And it was there that the soldiers followed them and opened fire again. Official reports leave the casualties at around 170, but some put it as high as 700 children.

Lastly, of course, as I stood before the image of Padre Rother, I thought of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I am thinking of him often. The friend of El Salvador who pleaded, during the time of the disappearances, with the Christian soldiers of his country to stop killing their brothers and sisters in Christ. I thought of how he was assassinated during the celebration of communion, his blood spilling across the altar and mingling with that of Christ.

Now I stood, with no prior warning or preparation, in a place where much the same kind of courage had been lived, and much the same death had been the result. As unexpected for me as it was for Faustina, big wet tears began to pour down my face.

There was a feeling of overwhelming sadness that in all those situations, people looked to the church for protection. They needed the sanctuary to be a sanctuary. Yet, we could not protect them. Sometimes we cannot protect them. All we can do is serve them, and love them. All we can do is give them our hearts, and our minds, and our words. All we can do is fight for them by speaking truth to power, and then die with them if that is what is what is required.

At the bottom of the plaque, was the verse in Spanish, “No hay amor mas grande que este: dar la vida por sus amigos” (There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for their friends).

After I pulled myself together, we went to get lunch and I tried to use my limited Spanish to explain to Faustina what I was feeling. We talked about the importance of the church as sanctuary, and the responsibility of pastors. I told her the story of how several pastors and Bishops had been arrested the month before in front of the White House in order to be in solidarity with the suffering.

She told me that I needed to talk to Vincente.

Vincente runs Casa Rosario, the small Spanish school on the shore of Lake Atitlan where I study. The next day, I found Vincente in the garden and I asked him to tell me his story.

During the time of the great violence in that region, he told me in Spanish, men like Vincente were offering help to the community just as Father Rother was doing. The impact of the Red Scare was still being felt in the United States and so, as a result, the United States government was supporting the military that was committing great acts of ethnic violence against the Mayans in the area around Lake Atitlan. It was a time of great suffering, and Vincente began to be noticed by the military for helping and advocating for the poor. Because he helped the poor and talked to them about advocating for themselves, he was put down on the list as a communist trouble maker.

Yet, he told me, he was not trying to be a Communist, he was trying to be like Jesus. However, acting like Jesus is not the best kind of protection during times like that, for Jesus too had been seen as a revolutionary trouble maker in his day. He was seen to be a Zealot by some of the leaders of his nation, who appealed to the empire of the day to kill him. Just as Father Rother and Vincente were seen to be Communists by the nation where they lived, and so that government appealed to the empire of the day – the United States – to offer aid in killing them.

He told me that one day troops came and broke down his door and demanded his family tell them where he was, but he was not at home. He never went home; knowing his time had come, he fled to Guatemala City and lived there with the poor, sleeping on cardboard in a tiny room with seven other people.

Eventually, after Father Rother was assassinated, and many more were killed, Vincente was able to return home. But while he gives thanks that God preserved his life, he has to go on knowing that many of his friends lost theirs. One friend was tortured, his body found slit from chin to chest, Vincente demonstrated for me. Another was one of the disappeared, and no one knew whether the body was in the mountains or at the bottom of the lake.

Father Rother, was a young priest from Oklahoma, who after being assigned to the region had learned the local Tz’tsuhil language and translated the Bible into the indigenous language of his people, as well as preaching in it. When he was told he would be killed, he went home to Oklahoma; not to escape, but to bring closure to his affairs and to his family. He asked for, and was given by his Bishop, permission to return and be with his flock. On the night that government operatives came into his room and shot him in the head, in the rectory of Santiago Atitlan, he was sleeping with his boots on.

Vincente told me that the United States did not investigate or hold accountable those that martyred Father Rother. The Guatemalan government, he said, simply informed the United States that they believed Father Rother to be a Communist, because he was helping and organizing and sheltering the poor. The story here is that seeing him as a traitor, and on the side of the Russians, the red-scared US government did not look into the death of the red-haired priest and US citizen.

Rother was only one of 10 priests murdered in Guatemala that year, 1981, and the deaths of locals continued for a decade. US military aid was not suspended until 1990 when the people of the Atitlan region had enough; thousands marched in peaceful protest after a shooting of a local teenager in Santiago by drunk soldiers. 13 more were shot dead when their peaceful protest reached the army base. The corresponding outrage, accompanied by concerns about the tourism industry around Lake Atitlan, profoundly important to the economy, finally led to the withdrawal of troops.

Some things change with time, and some things never will. Vincente still runs a small school on the edge of Lake Atitlan, and he still does everything he can to help the poor. The police, however, are a completely different group of people. Most were only children during the years of violence. The population does not fear them the way they once did the occupying forces. Rather, this Semana Santa, they were grateful for their profoundly visible presence during a time of gringo influx, fiestas cerca de playa and cerveza sold for only 3 quatzales (less than fifty cents).

It did my heart good to see a large group of police enter the garden just moments after Vincente finished telling me his story. He turned and crossed his arms behind his back in the handcuff position, joking with them that they caught him and could now take him away. Then they all shook hands and, for my sake, settled in for a good long chat about the safety of women in the community, and the importance of being vigilant about sexual exploitation – because sometimes, thank God, the government does listen.

This Holy Week, as we medidate on the death of Christ, may we remember to be vigilant to raise our voices and continue to force our governments to listen.

As for the sacerdotes (priests) among us, may we always remember and honor those who have paid the greatest cost of our calling, and remain mindful in our mahogany pulpits and glass cathedrals of what our calling truly is.

“There is no greater love than this, that one lay down their life for a friend.”

That is the calling.

May God give us the courage to speak, and governments that will listen. And when they will not, may we also have the courage to do the work of a shepherd whether it is a Russian Bear, or the American Bull that attacks our flock.

Lord, may our sanctuaries be places of safety, and our pulpits places of truth.

One of the children of Santiago Atitlan
One of the children of Santiago Atitlan
La Iglesia de Santiago Atitlan
La Iglesia de Santiago Atitlan
The place where Rother's heart, at the request of the people of Santiago Atitlan, is buried
The place where Rother’s heart, at the request of the people of Santiago Atitlan, is buried

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