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[...]
“What did you do?” “What did you build?” If you have been on a church “mission trip,” you are no doubt familiar with those two questions. I addressed those questions in a preemptive way when on Sunday July 1, a week to the day after preaching at the dedication of San Isidro Labrador’s new church building in Nueva Guatemala, I preached at my congregation of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Circle Pines. My sermon at Our Savior’s was centered around my parting words to the people of Nueva Guatemala, the day after the dedication of their new church as we concluded our visit: we will remember you; we will pray for you; we will return.
We will remember you. The people of Nueva Guatemala are indigenous Guatemalans. They are among the 80% of the population that, since the dawn of colonialism, has been cast aside and forgotten. Most of the existing community members are descendants of those who, being resettled after the end in 1996 of the 36 year Guatemalan Civil War, were simply tossed onto unfamiliar land and then left to figure out how to make it produce food for their families as the rest of the world forgot them and went on with life. To tell our companions that they will be remembered is to tell them that they matter.
We will pray for you. Nueva Guatemala is a community that has been preyed upon by their government and moneyed interests, two entities that often work together as one to take from them the little they call their own. The predator in the Petén region of Guatemala is the palm plantation. Only three of the twenty families of San Isidro Labrador have not sold their land to the company that grows the non-native African Palms that will exhaust the soil before the next decade is out. When the palm plantation dies, the jobs will die as well, and the earth beneath it will be sterile. We are praying for their community during this difficult and desperate time. To tell our companions that we will be praying for them is to tell them that we hold them in our hearts as sisters and brothers.
And we will return. I can’t even begin to detail how often and in how many ways our sisters and brothers in Nueva Guatemala have been walked away from. The first delegation from Our Savior’s traveled to Guatemala in 2007. After that first exploratory trip, we at Our Savior’s wondered whether there would be a second trip, and the congregation of San Isidro Labrador probably assumed there would not be. But, our most recent trip was our ninth. Each time we have returned, we have done so not because we are bored or we would feel guilty if we didn’t go back or we can’t imagine how else we might use our time and our financial resources. We go back because our souls are fed when we come together in Christ. To tell our companions that we will return is to tell them what they now believe in their hearts to be true, and it is – that we love them.
So, what did we do? What did we build? We shared in the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints, and we built relationships. I pray that many of you will take the opportunity to do the same.
The Rev. Steve Sylvester
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Circle Pines