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[...]
When an opportunity to travel to Guatemala with Gloria Dei arose, I was hesitant for lots of reasons: the cost, fear of intestinal distress, worries about sleeping accommodations and the disturbance my snoring might cause, the hassle of hauling a CPAP machine, the departure from my normal routine... Yet I also knew it would be a unique experience that would expand my cultural competence, familiarize myself with the activities and people of the ILAG firsthand and refuel my desire to improve my Spanish. Despite concerns, I just had to trust God that this experience was going to allow me to relinquish what control I thought I had and transcend these fears.
We spent the first part of our trip with brothers and sisters at the Catholic mission San Lucas Toliman before heading to the Lutheran Center in Guatemala City as participants in the leadership gathering. I was impressed by the leaders' excitement to learn and grow in their faith. Between sessions the leaders would gather together in corners or on the balcony, pouring over biblical texts, sharing, discussing and praying together. Having been to a number of synodical gatherings myself, I can confidently say, I've never done any of these things between sessions. Rather, I check social media, look for the snack table, check in with my office. Simply put, I take my faith for granted. I don't work at it like I could. I thought about how similar these ILAG leaders must be to the early Christians; excited about their faith, eager to discuss and share it with one another, feeling alone but seeking community in a culture dominated by other religious practices.
Besides visiting the El Mirador school with whom Gloria Dei has a partnership, Pastor Karen took us to visit two congregations in Guatemala City - El Tuerto and Divino Salvador del Mundo. I understood there were people living in the ravines of the city, but I had no idea what that really meant. Pastor Karen carefully guided us to these churches and homes in the dark and pouring rain, down uneven steps hewn into the ravine, down steep asphalt and cobblestone paths. I wondered how the elderly and disabled managed to navigate this terrain. The people of these congregations are proud of the worship spaces they've created and were excited to share them with us. They graciously invited us into their homes to meet their families and pray with them for various needs, job losses and illness. Pastor Karen's love and dedication to these people was clearly evident.
All of them, these people we had never met before, expressed gratefulness that we would leave our homes and families and come to Guatemala to be with them and share our common faith. It was humbling and in some ways I felt that I didn't deserve the grace they showed us. That, I finally realized, is the true nature of companionship. I arrived home, my heart and head full of the possibilities of renewal in our companion relationship. And yes, I also brought home a minor intestinal situation, but alas, no bed bugs or spiders!
Gloria Dei, Saint Paul