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[...]
At the 2018 Synod Assembly, Katie LeClair from Gloria Dei Lutheran, St. Paul, gave a testimony about how her relationship with the Iglesia Luterana Agustina de Guatemala has transformed her. Read it for yourself below.
One year and two months ago I traveled for the first time to Guatemala. I was a reluctant traveler. As in, when I first heard an invitation to go, I was sure I wasn't supposed to. My pastor invited me and tried to sell me on the trip. I wasn't interested. I didn't know the language, and besides, isn't Guatemala tropical heat? Aren't there huge bugs that will crawl on my face at night?
But the Holy Spirit. All good transformational stories usually start with a reluctant believer and God's surprises.
Our team was an inter-generational group of five teens and nine adults from my church, Gloria Dei Lutheran in St. Paul, and Salem Lutheran in West St Paul. The drive through Guatemala City to the Lutheran Center was a whirlwind of senses. The beauty of the colors of flowers - the traffic where everyone just goes at once as fast as they can - and dwellings which showcase extreme poverty in many places. The adventure had begun.
Inside the walls of the Lutheran Center, a colorful and sacred place, we unpacked our bags, ate a hurried lunch and learned of a change in plans. While we thought we'd be meeting with students from the El Mirador elementary school the next day, some fifty or more of them were actually on a bus on their way to meet us in about one hour.
So our team, some of us who had never met before, who thought we had a whole day to plan a Bible lesson with skit, craft, and songs, had less than one hour to watch our Heavenly Teacher teach us all what it means to follow by faith in the way of Jesus.
The kids came. They were incredible. We did a skit about Daniel in the lion's den. One of our teens translated the Bible story on the spot while we while acted it out. We sang "yo tengo gozo gozo gozo en mi corrosion donde!?" with them while we laughed and took pictures and played ball and said the few Spanish phrases we knew and they said English words back to us.
Instant love. So many smiles. I hadn't been in this new land even a few hours and I already had found my second home.
I also witnessed a second blessing happening. I'm a youth minister and it's the beat of my heart to see young people set on fire with Jesus and his mission. And I saw our teens surrendering to whatever the schedule happened to present to us. Taking risks and using their Spanish, praying, and asking hard questions. They volunteered to lead nightly devotions and share deeply from their hearts. Seeing and hearing them each night had a big impact on me. It was in these unplanned, unscripted moments that God was most visible.
In the next few days, we met with four young women - pioneers - from the Milagro Women's Center. We heard their stories and the challenges young people face. We learned about machismo, patriarchy, empowering women, and what equality in marriage and family can look like. These are things that even the young Lutheran men are learning about. The church is leading the spiritual and the skills training to empower young people, and consequently, their parents and grandparents, to see a new vision where women can become pastors and bishops, where women can be educated and hold jobs - and how it can heal a nation.
We worshipped with El Mirador Church in Guatemala City on Sunday morning. The entire church fed us an amazing lunch and we stayed the whole afternoon with them to help build floats for the Palm Sunday processional. While others were pounding nails and painting, I was getting a tour of the host family's yard, with its duck and chicken coops, two of which were in rusted old cars, bunny cages, and orange trees. Two little girls took me around and around the yard to teach me the Spanish words for all these things, as well as how to count in Spanish and the names of animals. And - how to believe in Jesus. That's what they taught me. I hope the next time I go, I see them again.
Yes, next time. I can't wait to get back. I was able to witness the work of God first hand, and become part of that story myself. I want to keep letting that story change me, and it will. Amen.
Director of Youth & Family Formation
Gloria Dei Lutheran, St. Paul