Every evening before bedtime, we have gathered together as a group to make space for a time of meaning. Each night includes a short worship led by one or two students, and sometimes it also includes a period of reflection, where we process the trip and our reactions to the day’s events. Tonight, on “Day 6,” we asked the group to take ten minutes and write down the thoughts that were on their hearts. Here are what some people were comfortable sharing on this blog with you, dear reader. I only included the names as the author wrote them; some writers preferred to remain anonymous. I hope you find their thoughts as meaningful as I have.
I’m alive and well! Guatemala is both beautiful and depressing at the same time. The scenery is mountainous and very lush, green, and alive. I don’t believe we’ve gone more than a few miles on flat ground. Not good for someone with motion sickness, but we are dealing with it. The depressing part is that the poverty is as abundant as the hills; so many people and so little jobs and money. One just wants to do something…anything to help them; they are such beautiful people. It teaches you that you don’t need “things” or money to be happy and loving. To all my friends and family…I miss and love you all!
Our time with Pastor Diego and the widows of Chontala was touching and such a blessing to me in many ways. As a member of the United Methodist Church, I felt particularly connected to the Methodist Church worldwide, as we heard from Pastor Diego, the United Methodist pastor who was our host as we entered today’s experience.
The walk down to the widow’s community was steep, with apple trees all along our way. I was concerned for Patrick’s ankle and others who needed to take their time, but everyone made it and we were all welcomed by the widows and their families with open arms.
As I walked up to their home, several children were enjoying Leslie and her camera—a picture would be taken of them, and right away, they wanted to see it—which is amazingly possible in this digital age. What joy and amazement in the experience! Weavings and color were all around—such a contrast with the dirt floor and cinder-block walls.
I loved taking photos of the weavings, the women, and the wonder showing on the faces of all who were present—purple and blue, yellow and green, orange and pink, so many colors woven together with love. And families who had been cut down and damaged, were in the midst of Spring…blooming again in the work of these beautiful women, their children and grandchildren.
A little while into our time today, we heard from Maria, whose husband had been killed, because he had refused to be part of the Civil Defense Patrol and kill his neighbors and family members. Maria was telling her gut-wrenching story, when I heard laughter and the sound of a familiar voice coming from behind a curtain that separated us from another room. The laughter continued, and I heard children’s voices…and then the sound of the Mario Brothers video game floating across the air…an old video game from nearly 20 years past.
Pretty soon, I could no longer resist, so I had to wander over with my camera in hand…. I peeked behind the curtain to find my 17-year-old son sitting with a little girl on his lap, one at his side, a little boy next to him, and a video game controller in his hand…. A few minutes on the video game, then up to lift a little girl high in the air, a few minutes more on the video game, then on to another game with three of the children in the courtyard outside…what a beautiful sight! My heart was touched today…in so many ways.
We shared lunch and pictures of snow and ice in Minnesota. We shopped, admired, and purchased their hand-woven goods and talked with the women about their beautiful work. Jessica…the quiet little girl who loved to sit in my lap and take pictures with my camera…. Sitting on the floor, eating chicken and vegetables and rice.
As we entered the Ruth and Nohemi Project back in Chichi, I was profoundly aware of my Methodism, and through that, my connection with this pastor, these people, and this project going on in a far-away part of the world. I began looking for, and finding, the United Methodist cross and red flame symbol around the room…on the wall, on Pastor Diego’s business card, on the labels that are being sewn into the purple stole that is under the needle of the black, humming sewing machine.
And I feel like this project (Ruth and Nohemi) is a bridge…a bridge between the widows’ home and weaving…and the opened eyes and hearts of the United Methodist community and other communities around the world. A bridge between worlds.
The path led past green apples and ripe plums to the edge of the canyon, along the rim for a bit, then dropping steeply on worn bedrock, steps worn in places, maybe decades, maybe centuries old. Deep in the draw we step under a roof, off the path, children smile shyly, play marbles, Maria greets us, shares hugs for Don and Chris, leads us inside under low tin roofs to a sun-splashed patio blazing with color—clothing, fabrics, purses, bags, pieces “por el mesa” in brilliant reds, blues, greens, turquoise, fucsia, ocre, orange, cobalt—too many to name.
Maria’s voice is calm, strong, her eyes clear, no surprise she is president of this group—could be president of whatever country she found herself in. What day on the Mayan calendar was she born? A day of power, clearly.
But the colors belie, or maybe transcend, her story. Thirty (?) years ago, her husband’s mangled body lay dying in this spot. Hacked off hands, head split in four pieces. When he died, she fled, pregnant, with two other children, not burying him, afraid of taking even that love.
Into the forest, eventually to the city, away, leaving the soldiers to bomb and burn and destroy. When she finally returned with others, there was nothing, only this place, maybe the steps worn in the rocks. But there was something—hope, maybe, determination, what drove her past the intoxication of revenge, something, something took hold, buildings built, women come together and then….
Colors. Brilliant, living, happy, true. What makes them so bright? How improbable, how sure.
Being true to myself is so vitally important for this type of work. If there is any subterfuge or attempt to hide behind my illusions and privilege, the work will be meaningless. In fact, I would argue that there would be no work done at all. So if I am to be true to myself, I must ask the difficult questions, the ones that might not have an answer, or whose answer might evolve over time. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with what I have? Where do I go from here? Pondering these types of questions is like approaching a vast delta on a tiny dinghy—so many new questions open up before me that I cannot possibly explore them all. But I am called, in this work, to try.
I have been blessed with so many gifts in my life: A family that loves me and supports me and tries to understand me, and then still loves and supports me when I’m making no sense at all to them; The luck of being born into a life of privilege where I do not have to worry about survival or the lives of my loved ones; And the chance to get an education that provides me with the tools to observe and explore the world and try to make it a better place. I cannot predict my path with any concrete accuracy. But I can dream and hope and plan, and today my dreams and hopes and plans are telling me un otro mundo es posible—another world is possible.
Spirit of Life—move in my hands, giving life the shape of justice. So may it be.