Beckett: Guatemala – Things Are Not Always As They Seem

If you read my first entry on my trip to Guatemala, you learnt a little bit about the practicalities of what we did as well as what I had learnt about myself as I enjoyed playing with the adorable Guatemalan children. If not, I highly advise you go read that first entry then return here. Here, I will be telling you two stories of two Guatemalans who taught me a lot about faith. If you recall from my first entry, I said, “I came here with the intention to teach and encourage their faith, but instead they are teaching me about faith and their example is encouraging and inspiring.” I will tell you what I mean by that in the stories of a man named Carlos and a woman named Cayetana.

Carlos & Margarita

Carlos (middle) and team.

On the morning of Tuesday, January 23rd, the team had split up to do their home visits. My half of the team—Noks, Miguel, Dawn, Pastor Steve, and I—went to go see a man named Carlos. Now, the theme of the day was the saying, “Things are not always as they seem,” which we would later reflect on as we read Joshua 2 at the end of the day.

If you can recall from Joshua 2, this is when Joshua sends spies into Jericho. Apparently they’re not very good spies because they have to hide, and it was a prostitute named Rahab who hid them. The king of Jericho had somehow learnt that the spies were in Rahab’s home, so he sent men to demand that she bring them out of hiding. But Rahab, in her wit, said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them” (vv.4b-5). 

How are things not as they appear with Rahab? First of all, she is a prostitute who confessed her faith in God (v. 11). Second of all, she showed extraordinary wit. She not only openly admitted that the spies were in her home, but she was also intelligent and cunning enough to convince the king’s men that she did not know who they were and they had left soon after the gate had closed. Such a confession of faith, protecting the spies, and being witty enough to fool the king’s men is not something we would expect from a prostitute. It’s not only in our culture but also the Old Testament culture that we expect prostitutes to be faithless, unwise, and unintelligent. But with Rahab, things are not always as they seem.

So it is with Carlos. When you meet Carlos—and you can probably judge from the photo with his goofy face—Carlos is a man filled with joy in spite of his being in a wheel chair, paralysed from the waist down. In the photo above, you might also assume that the older woman on the left, Margarita, is his wife; that the woman in the middle towards the back is his daughter, and that the children are his grandchildren. If this is what you thought when looking at the photo, you were wrong. It’s okay, so was I. Carlos is living with these people, but Margarita is not his wife and the younger ones are not his children or grandchildren. So, what is Carlos’ story?

Several years ago, Carlos came across Margarita and her husband (I don’t know if he’s alive or dead now), and Carlos’ trade was building wells, which Margarita and her family desperately needed. So, in exchange for building them a well, the family agreed to have him live with them and feed them as he built their well. Unfortunately, at this time Carlos was an alcoholic, and on top of that, Margarita and her husband soon found out he was abusing their daughter. But they were in dire need of a well for water, so they didn’t kick Carlos out. Imagine how hard of a decision that must’ve been—that pain they had to go through as Carlos drunkenly beat their daughter.

One night, when Carlos was drunk as usual, he was walking about in the dark and fell in the well. I don’t know the details of his condition, but as a result he became paralysed from the waist down. Now, imagine this family’s situation. Margarita and her family allowed this man whom they don’t even know to live with them and eat their food while he built them a well all the while abusing their daughter, and now in a drunken state he ends up getting paralysed from the waist down, unable to take care of himself, and unable to do his trade. What would you have done? Abusing your daughter, and no longer to do what you hired him to do, what would you have done? I know what I would have done: I would have fired him and left him to fend for himself after what he had done to my daughter. After all he had done to this family, he deserves it, right?

But that’s not what Margarita and her family did. Instead, they took him in, they continued to feed him, they took care of all his medical needs, even putting a catheter in him every day, and they continue to do so to this day. Pastor Steve is most familiar with this man, and he doesn’t know how, but somehow along the way Carlos came to faith. He came to know Jesus. Through this family, Carlos came to know his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Margarita and her family had every right to kick Carlos out onto the streets, but they didn’t. Instead, in spite of their deep hurt, they took him in and took care of them and he somehow came to know Jesus Christ.

This is called grace. The grace of God is that He freely gave us His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins at no cost of our own. We deserve death, but God reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. In the same way, it is by the grace of God that Margarita took care of Carlos when he deserved to be kicked out onto the streets—and very likely die as a result—but instead healed his wounds and fed him, coming to know Jesus Christ in the end. That is exactly what God did for us in Christ. If that is not a pure example of God’s grace, then I don’t know what is. This woman put my faith to shame, for I know I would not have done what she had done. In the face of such faith by the grace of God, I can do nothing but repent.

Cayetana

Wednesday, January 24th was the day I put my pastoral care to the test in just the little training I’ve received at the seminary thus far. I led the adult Bible study that morning just like the day before, and there were even more “Amens” and the women hugged me afterwards and spoke blessings, which was an extraordinarily beautiful thing to experience from these people. While I was preaching to the women, the rest of the team were going on home visits, which I was disappointed I couldn’t tag along because I love making home visits to people and encouraging them with the Word. Fortunately, however, I was able to make one home visit with Sandra my translator after I finished the Bible study with the adults.

Abigail (brown shirt), Amerika (white dress), and Cayetana (mother).

After the Bible study, Sandra had asked me if I wanted to make a home visit. I said the only thing I could say, “Of course!” So, Sandra brought over a woman named Cayetana with 3 out of 9 of her children: Abigail (Ah-bee-gah-eel), Amerika (Ah-mehr-ee-kah), and Lynda (Leen-dah), the last of whom you can’t see in the photo on the left because she’s an infant whom Cayetana was holding. The remaining 6 children were at school that morning.

As we were walking through the sugar cane fields to her home, I got nervous. On the rest of our home visits, we were always with other members of the team, so it was a team effort in providing spiritual care and comfort. On this morning, however, everybody else was already gone on their own home visits while I led the adult Bible study and here I was alone with Sandra, my translator. This is what I meant by putting my pastoral care to the test in the little training I’ve received at the seminary thus far.

So, as we walked through the sugar cane fields, I kept thinking, “What if she asks me questions about suffering that I don’t have the answers to? How the heck can I, a much richer guy from America, encourage her to trust God in spite of her poverty?” As these thoughts and others were running through my head, I remembered the example of Margarita’s faith and so many others we had visited. They all trusted God and were extremely grateful to Him even for the little they had. So, I had decided to trust the Holy Spirit rather than my own abilities. I said to myself, “Stop thinking so much. Just use this time to simply be with Cayetana and her children and get to know her. When you need to share the Word, the Spirit will guide you.” So, that’s what I did. I sat with her and talked with her as Sandra translated.

Cayetana didn’t have any questions of suffering. The only questions she had were about me. She asked me why I wanted to be a pastor, so I gave her the short version. She asked me if I had a wife and kids, and I said no. Surprised, she prayed that God would bless me with a loving wife and beautiful, healthy children. Then she asked me if I had any questions. Once I got past the small talk questions, wanting to know about her husband’s faith, I asked if he was a Christian. Earlier in the discussions she had said he doesn’t go to church since he works in the sugar cane fields so much, so I asked her if he was a Christian. Fortunately, he is. So, as a follow-up question, I asked if they owned a Bible. She said they don’t since neither of them knows how to read. That can’t be easy as 20- to 30-something adults whose 6 kids are going to school learning how to read.

So, I felt now was the time for some encouragement. I told her that she doesn’t need to know how to read in order to know the Word and to teach her children. I also explained to her how the early church didn’t have Bibles like we do, but only a few scrolls. When the church first started, not everyone had scrolls to read from. Most of them had to learn about Jesus through the oral proclamation of His Word, and they in turn shared His Word by mouth.

This is the rest of what I said to her as Sandra translated: “Since you go to church, you hear the Word of God and you can bring the Word back home with you to share with your husband and kids. Now, there’s something you need to know about the word church. Church is not the location or the building you go to. It is certainly a blessing to have those things to gather with other believers, but that is not the true meaning of church. In the original language of the New Testament, church literally means a community of believers. In other words, the Church is God’s people, not the place you go to. Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.’ Cayetana, when you go to church, you are the church. And when you return home, you are the church. By faith in Jesus Christ, your are a temple of the Holy Spirit, through whom Jesus is always with you. Wherever you are, there is the church; and wherever the church is, there is Jesus Christ the Word of God.”

Cayetana was grateful for my words of encouragement, and Sandra gave me her nod and smile of approval, which was comforting since she knows these people a whole lot more than I do.

Me, Abigail, Cayetana, and Lynda.

The time soon came when it was time to return to the pavilion for me to eat lunch and help with the children’s lesson. Before we left, I asked Cayetana, “How may I pray for you today?” Now, when we pray, it’s mostly asking for things we need whether it’s for ourselves or for others. There’s nothing wrong with those prayers, but that’s not what consisted most of Cayetana’s prayer. Most of her prayer requests consisted of giving thanks to God for providing for her family and thanking God for keeping all of her children healthy. The only intercessory prayer she asked of me was to pray for her children’s continued health and to pray for protection over her husband as he works in the sugar cane fields. So, that’s what I did. We gave many thanks to God for her provision over Cayetana and her children and protection over her husband, and I prayed for His continued provision and protection over them.

Why did I share this story? Not only did I learn a lot about myself as a future pastor when I do pastoral care, but I also learnt a lot about faith and prayer. As I said, most of our prayers consist of asking for things, which there’s nothing wrong with that. God does desire that we ask for our daily bread. But my own prayers hardly consist of thankfulness to God for His provision and protection. Most of my prayers consist of things I want, not so much things that He’s already given me. So, here is this woman, who virtually has nothing, and she wants me to pray thanksgivings to God for His protection over her family and provision for her children’s health. That’s all she needs. She doesn’t need a flat screen TV or the latest next generation video game console or the newest fashion trend. All she needs is the health of her family.

Talking with Carlos and learning about his past has renewed my understanding of God’s grace. I’ve always known God’s grace to be free and unfathomably amazing, but talking with him and learning about his past reminded me of this grace and I also learnt how I can give that same grace to people who don’t deserve it. Mostly, I learnt, “Things are not always as they seem.” Or, as we say, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but I prefer the former. With our pre-conceived judgements, it might appear that someone is this way or that way, but underneath it all we find something completely different. We approach people and think we know everything about them, but we don’t even know a single percentage of what’s going on inside of them. Everybody is hurting. With that in mind, how might you approach a person who is hurting by the grace of God when you have no idea how they are hurting? By Margarita’s example, it seems simple: just love them, but it is a self-sacrificial love—it is that agape love of Jesus Christ on the cross. Margarita has changed how I approach people.

Talking with Cayetana taught me not only to trust the Spirit more than I assumed I did (and I truly didn’t) when I counsel people, but especially to pray to God in thanksgiving for all the things He has given me, especially the small things. As I sit here and type on my $2,000 MacBook with my $500 Xbox One S in the next room with my hundreds upon hundreds of dollars of books in my study and my good health thanks to my free healthcare through the VA as a veteran, I cannot help but feel guilty—guilty for not thanking God more for all these things and more. Cayetana has changed my prayer life.

I hope you have learnt from Carlos, Margarita, and Cayetana as much as I have. I hope their stories help you to reflect on how you’ve been treating all people who are hurting and your own prayer life. Do you approach people with pre-conceived judgements like I have? What is your prayer life like? Do you even have a prayer life? Whatever the case, I think we all have many things to learn from these “poor” Guatemalans who are so rich with faith in Jesus Christ.

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