I think most of us struggle with priorities and the line of what is “most important” on any given day seems to shift dramatically. One of the constants in the Guatemalan culture is family….or la familia. It is not even a choice, it is a way of life. It plays out in a myriad of ways but also through some very strong traditions.
One of those traditions is the Quinceañera. When a girl turns 15, everyone stops and celebrates with a grand fiesta. There are vows the girl takes. It is a passage from young girl into a lady…a woman. You know how things just happen that seem so “arranged” and yet you can’t imagine any other than the hand of God being involved? Well Adolfo is a long time friend of our church and specially the mission team that has been coming here for 11 years. When I was here in April, his daughter, Jackelin, was baptized (another HUGE – day long celebration). Well, Jackelin’s Quinceañera was this weekend! Adolfo invited me to come and it was a great experience of culture, of friends and of espanol! I did not know this would be on my agenda. My suitcase didn’t have a “dressy dress” in it, but thankfully I did throw in some heels. (I have learned some things from this adventure about what to bring, but that is another post) I’ve learned a lot about shopping, attire and what you do “no matter what” when a girl turns 15!
The familia (Adolfo has a lovely wife and three daughters) decorated a rented building (Salon) for the event. About 400 people attended. The festivities for the day began with my having lunch in their home (a traditional birthday meal which I also experienced in April with one of the kids from our mission site) and then followed the preparation for the service. It was as if preparing for a wedding, though I cannot speak to that tradition here. The Quinceañera is for all girls.. it knows no class or distinction. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, every girl celebrates this passage. For Jackelin’s family, however, that event is centered completely around the church.
The service was clearly Metodista…printed bulletin, hymns, scripture, liturgy and all. The dressing of the familia was all formal and lovely. I learned a lot, had a good time and enjoyed making a memory with this familia.
There were 8 celebrantes involved in the ceremony in addition to many songs…10-12, both congregational singing and special music. After the ceremony (2.5 hours +) we had a full course dinner (yummy!!!) and cake which was just like a wedding cake… complete with its own cutting ceremony! It was a very long and grande event. And awesome for me to share with this special family.
In Guatemala family is a high priority for everyone. My teacher, for example, shares a home with her parents, her two grown daughters and one 4 year old grandchild. There is no retirement here (except for government employees) so families have to stick together. In Lily’s household, she is the constant breadwinner.
It is the familia that causes people to come work in the USA, make money and return with a way to offer their families a decent way of life. It is the familia that always brings them back to their homeland. It is the familia that keeps traditions moving throughout the generations and it is the familia that breaks the hearts of all. Sounds much like love, doesn’t it?
The new generations of Guatemala are experiencing much change. This tight-knit bond is a little more unraveled these days, though still intact. The girl that goes off to school away from the family is both discouraged and admired. She has a tough road ahead. The young man who desires to see the world will struggle with a global connection with many countries and a family that needs his support to make it. Like us, they all wonder: what will happen? What will we become? What will happen to the family? Will we scatter all over the world, and if we do….who will be there when we are in need?
The church has a way of answering some of those questions – both here in Guatemala and all over the world. Jesus was clear that his brothers and sisters are those who follow as his disciples. In other words, the church is to serve as family to all who assemble as a united community. Thankfully I can say that is exactly my experience. I grew up with an amazing “church family” as a child and I have one in our church today. My church family today is the most incredible community of faith I’ve ever known. We love each other and we help each other…in all situations and circumstances. I think “the family” needs our prayers. Both traditionally and the one we are called to be as a church. And maybe, some priorities should remain.