The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
I have been blessed to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala many times, and it seems every time I go, I am changed. I am not alone. Every person who has journeyed with me has also expressed the fact that they have been changed, too. This change takes place in a variety of ways but almost exclusively comes at the core of who we are. Something happens. Something deep inside of you is changed and it is impossible to come back to the States after a trip to Guatemala and remain the same. While this is a beautiful reality it also is a bit of a challenge. You see, the question always remains as to if you will let the change take hold of your life or if it will simply fade away over time. That's for another writing perhaps.
For today, I want to focus on why the change happens in the first place. The answer to that is really quite simple - the people. Patient, gracious, generous, smiling, open and eager to engage people. I remember that I was nervous the first time I traveled to Guatemala over 12 years ago. My Spanish then, and still now, was bad at best and I wondered how would I interact with those I would encounter. Yet my poor language skills did not matter. Every single person I took the time to try to have a conversation with met me with patience and grace. We learned how to communicate and we learned that we can talk in many ways without using words at all. This changed me. The opportunity to encounter another person in a different culture and to wrestle together in order to come together is powerful. Sometimes I wonder if words get in the way of connection here at home.
In addition to the people that produce deep personal change, the place as a whole changes you drastically. Guatemala is this crazy mix of incredible beauty and drastic inequality. Those impacted by poverty make up the majority of the population and this is poverty unlike anything I had ever seen before. It makes we truly consider how bloated my own sense of need is. And while we could spend time thinking about important things of justice as it relates to poverty, the important thing for me remains how the poverty and terrible conditions do not tarnish the joy of these incredible sisters and brothers in Christ. That's powerful. That's grace. That's Christ. The picture included here is of Claudia - she was one of the many children whose home was destroyed in a storm shortly before one of the trips I took. She had nothing but one room and a dirt floor to share with her six siblings and parents. Yet she was filled with joy. In her eyes I truly see Jesus. Love, grace, compassion, and hope in something far greater than myself.
Yes, change happens when one travels to Guatemala. I pray that change continues to happens when we return home.
The Rev. Justin Grimm
Director for Evangelical Mission, Assistant to the Bishop for Next Generation Ministries
Saint Paul Area Synod, ELCA