Angels of Guatemala

I learned to appreciate even more the law enforcement professional of the USA yesterday. In Franklin, Tennessee the guys that took the camera would have been in jail by 9pm that same night. As it is, they are probably in Costa Rica or Honduras by now. There is a reason why crimes are left unresolved in some countries. The process itself is not worth the effort. I have my first “Guatemalan police report” in my hands.

I want to tell a different story. I met friends for breakfast at Santa Clara after worship on Sunday. It’s an awesome place..panaderia and resturant. Typical food and cheap! In my joy of the moment, I forgot my Guatemalan phone on the table when I left and it was several hours later when I realized I didn’t have it. I walked back to the place but they were closed. Ugh….

A few hours later I was talking to some local people and asked them about Santa Clara. As it turns out, they eat breakfast there every day and they felt certain my phone would still be there the next morning. Later that night I had an email from Lucia, a local friend, and she had received a call from Santa Clara with the news that they were holding my phone.

So I returned Monday morning early and they were waiting for me. I enjoyed another awesome breakfast at half the cost of most restaurants. And I was thankful! Thankful for being shown so clearly that just as there are people ready to steal, there are many more ready to help.

I have three stories of amazing moments in Guatemala when someone went out of their way to help me in a time of need. I’ve written about all of them, like I am writing today about Santa Clara. One was the staff at Hotel Bambu when I lost my blackberry. Another was a service truck from the phone company, Claro, when I was broken down in a vehicle on the road to Champarico, and now…when I left my phone at Santa Clara.

What can we say? The joy and the hospitality of this country far outweighs the challenges I face here. I can only be thankful! And so…I am just that.

Through this Lens

WritingA different reality of life interrupted our time in the “God-space” of reflection and listening. Several of our rooms were broken into yesterday and there was a theft. The items taken remain missing. We are safe; we are thankful. Credit cards were cancelled, of course, so they were not valuable for very long and most purchase attempts were declined. It was a planned effort to take the items and the police have been helpful.

The words we spoke as we drove across the beauty of Guatemala are poignant now. I can still hear Rachel saying, “I have taken so many pictures in my mind; there is no way to capture all that is here.” We spoke of how excited we are to share the story with the church. We have ideas! We have plans! It makes me smile even to write about the passion. Nevertheless, at this moment, there are no longer any pictures. The artist who came with her heart inside the camera, goes home with those photos lodged in her spirit. I hurt for her loss and yet, I know that the camera cannot hold a candle to what the expression of God inside her holds. She is so beautiful; her spirit so incredibly beautiful. I am thankful that the images of Guatemala lodge in her heart, not only in the camera. The stories will still be told.

Women of Chichicastenango
Women of Chichicastenango

We had the opportunity to pray many times. We let the police know that we are a prayerful people. The team was fabulous…again each person adding their voice and gift to the experience. Steve, his strength, stature and attention to detail; Rachel (Mammagoose), her tears for the children she came to represent to our church family; Rachel (Rock), her insight and putting things into perspective; Chester, his gifted translation of our voice and our heart; and me, a discernment and wisdom with eyes to see. We navigated through it together. All important.

I am reminded of a poem I wrote many years ago as I was sharing some photos with some family members. It was a simple poem; possibly even a bad poem! I am surprised it is still in my head after all this time. Only a few fragments are in my head but they sound pretty loud right now:

Inside you’ll find a photograph
Of a memory you helped create
A snapshot of a place in time
You made from good to great

…… (many lines I can’t recall)

Should circumstance change or
the pages fade, don’t worry
or add a care.
A memory is more than a photograph;
Look in your heart and find it there.

Ironically, today is an interesting day of tradition in Guatemala. It is called, “La Quema del Diablo” or, “The Burning of the Devil”. At 6pm tonight a grand gathering will happen as the town “burns the devil” as a way of sending satan away and burning off the bad of the year in order to start the new year from the ashes that remain. This is part of the tradition of preparing for the birth of Christ. December 7th is La Quema del Diablo and tomorrow, December 8th, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We had several conversations about this December 7th event…before and after our experience.

We have gained a tiny bit of experience in the process of crime and police reporting and will gain a bit more cultural experience as the festival unfolds. Some experiences you welcome; some you humbly accept. I need all of this. Theft happens everywhere in the world. What is most important is that we are safe and that the story God is writing on our hearts this week continues to be shared.

I am inserting two links for those who want to read more about the two events mentioned above.

I end with this Scripture from my reading this morning in Colossians 3:15
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” May the week we have shared be used in whatever way God will choose. We have already received blessing beyond measure. Let it be.

Tres Amigos de Mi
Tres Amigos de Mi

The Growing of Hearts

ImageThe meetings have concluded and we begin the slow process of sharing insights as they come. This time is important. It is the space where our minds move from “packed to full” to clarity.  It is making time for the Spirit to add wisdom to our information. It is the time for the Spirit to bring discernment into the ideas, plans, hopes, fears, dreams, visions and realities.  It has taken me a long time to appreciate the importance of this space.  It is God’s space. It is the place that requires humility and acceptance that our role is to seek and follow our Creator. Period. We don’t determine where, when, or how. We simply choose to listen, seek God, and then follow whatever the Spirit leads. And it’s on God’s time, not ours.

The confessional part of the journey as a disciple requires me to say, “and it is so easy for me to feel led in directions I already want to go!”  Of course!  That is why sharing helps us to hear what God is speaking. That is why allowing time and space for God to guide is the way of a disciple. Themes begin to rise. Directions begin to align. Our minds, hearts and spirits come together and peace sets into the soil that God is planting.  There have been many places I did not want to go, but when I realized God was nudging me I knew saying “yes” was the only response.  Those particular “yes” responses have given me a life that is beyond anything I ever imagined. My faith is so weak, and yet, God is so faithful!

Fruit truck on the road to  Xela
Fruit truck on the road to Xela

Having the Rachels and Steve here is wonderful. They are each gifted in a different way so they offer insight that is helpful and sharpening.  That is the community of faith at work.  This little “unexpected Guatemala Team” was assembled by stirrings in each person’s spirit.  As we walk through each experience (they have had a LOT to take in!) they have all been open to listen and engage completely.  I am so grateful.  It reminds me this morning of Proverbs 27:17 which says, “iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another.”  

Team at work
Team at work

<As Steve was preparing for the meeting with the Executive Committee he was reminded of a Scripture. It is a teaching of Christ:  "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them." (Matthew 18:20).  Rachel W. also had a Scripture that kept rising up in her mind. It is a teaching of the prophet Isaiah: "Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:17)   And so…we welcome this holy space of now.  May God grow our hearts to be humble and teachable in this place.
views from xela
 Let it be.


I See a Generation…

…rising up to take their place, with selfless faith…


The words of that song have been echoing in my head the past two days.  It’s a song I love to sing in worship at Franklin First UMC. It’s a song that expresses what I have been seeing and continue to see in our world.    God is stirring so many people and it is global.  Every generation is being invited to follow that stirring…but there is an obvious rising up of the current generation to literally “take their place” in making this world a different place.  It’s beautiful.   Listen closely… do not miss what God is speaking through them.  It is new. 

We began early and ended late today.  We had reunions, visits and meetings.  We walked the dusty, rocky road of La Toma and if there was anything hard in our hearts it melted away.  It is near impossible to be in this community with a stone in your heart. Sometimes people come with a hammer here, a bit like Jesus being a carpenter.  There is always more to the story…carpenter to Messiah.  Builder to sponsor.  Stone to water.

It is late and we had a long day so I will just share this great joy.  We visited Beatriz late this afternoon. She was surprised to see us and she had an even bigger surprise to share!  A new baby! Elanny is 3 months old and her mother is VERY HAPPY! 

Beatriz with Elanny
Beatriz with Elanny
It was so fun so see Beatriz so full of joy and life. Earlier this year when I visited her, the front part of the home was set as an altar for her mother who had just died.  Tonight when we arrived that same space is decorated for Christmas and the altar is being prepared for the nativity. 
A home ready for Christmas
A home ready for Christmas
Joy was bursting out of every corner of the house and every person’s spirit.  So wonderful! 

Rachel presented Beatriz with a big stack of coloring books and supplies for the children she helps to teach.

Howard's gift of coloring books for the children Beatriz teaches was like delivering Christmas...
Howard’s gift of coloring books for the children Beatriz teaches was like delivering Christmas…
We were all awed with little Elanny and rejuvenated a bit from the long day.  There is great joy in this house; not sorrow. And while she is overjoyed being a new mom, she is also talking about the children she is teaching, their needs and all she dreams for them.  We shared greetings from all those who are so close to her and she spoke with much gratefulness for the education she had as a child.  You never know the full impact of building a school to give local children a place to learn and grow.

Mamma Goose (also known as Rachel Williamson) offered a prayer as we were leaving the home of Beatriz. It was the prayer of a mother’s heart.  In those words I heard a vision for Elanny..of having a future and a hope that will be even more than her mom as ever dreamed.  Let us all be still enough to listen…to the stirring of the Spirit…to the coming of Messiah that we anticipate in Advent.  God is rising up the young, the wise, the old and the new.  I just wonder…what is God rising up in you?

Ezekiel in the van with us as we drove from La Toma to Halo Guatemala today.
Ezekiel in the van with us as we drove from La Toma to Halo Guatemala today.

Morning Notes

My heart is full this morning and the internet (or my computer battery dying..take your pick) limits my writing. We leave Chichicastanengo this morning and travel to the camp at Lemoa where we will have a little fiesta with the students we sponsor. As I poured over their names this morning my heart filled up with love. I am eager for the team to meet the families. I am eager to reunite with them and tell them once again, “we believe in you!” Please pray for us today. Simply that we will be channels of love. Pray that we will carry with us the same intention and grace Christ carried when he stopped to look into the eyes of each person because each one of them is a child of God and worthy of our attention. I am happy!
After this meeting we travel more until we reach Mazatenango and the site where our teams have been staying and serving for many years. It will be a little like going home. Our prayers and love are being sent daily to our friends, families and church. We are so grateful for all of your prayers.

With Joy and Love,


Just Follow Me…

There is nothing quite as comforting as being in a “foreign country” and connecting with people from your home country. That happened with us tonight. One of the Project Transformation Tennessee interns that I met this summer, Allison Bedford, is here in Guatemala. Our bond was set this summer when we shared stories of Guatemala. Allison read our facebook post yesterday and gave us a call. Tonight she is my roommate and the team spent some time listening to her experiences over the past 2 months. Allison has been volunteering with a church community and village called, Chontala. She has been building relationships, practicing her Spanish and getting to know the Guatemalan people. She learned of this village by participating in missions with the Wesley Foundation at the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University. Allison’s heart was stirred over the 4 years her college friends came here on mission and she returned here to serve as long as she could. She leaves in 3 weeks.

Allison was thrilled with her chocolate flan at dinner!
From Project Transformation Tennessee to Guatemala…

I am happy to see Allison. I am overwhelmed by the connections that God gives us when we have no idea why. Or it is embarrassing to realize that I may be unaware of how strong a scattered people called “disciples” can be when each person is listening and following the path God has set before them. It’s funny, I don’t think of Gautemala as a “foreign country” anymore. I didn’t realize that until I just typed it. I simply think of it as a southern neighbor with a very different culture.

Steve Fulton had a similar experience as he reunited with Pastor Tomas today. Just 3 months ago Pastor Tomas and Doris were guests in his home in Frankin, TN. He had no idea that he would be in a meeting with them in Guatemala before the year ended! It makes me laugh…seriously…the Spirit will do whatever the Spirit will do. Our role is to follow.

Doris, Steve, Pastor Tomas, Rachel L and Rachel W
Doris, Steve, Pastor Tomas, Rachel L and Rachel W

The sanctuary here is 6 years old. It is beautiful!
The sanctuary here is 6 years old. It is beautiful!

I was amused (and I appreciated) the order and organization of our meeting today. Pastor Tomas is definitely a “Methodist”! He had an agenda and followed it! The Guatemalan people are particularly intentional about greetings, thanksgivings and blessings. During greetings there is an introduction of each person in the room. Over 10 leaders came to be a part of the meeting today and each one introduced themselves.

Meeting at the church of Pastor Tomas
Meeting at the church of Pastor Tomas

I loved having Steve and the Rachels in this meeting. It tells me the Lord is stirring hearts to help and lead. This relationship and the mission of Guatemala is a mutually beneficial friendship that allows all of us to be transformed for the glory of God. If we are to be the kingdom of God, if people are going to believe the stories they hear of Christ’s presence on earth…if this is who we are then we must live that life expressing love with one another in whatever way God leads us. It doesn’t always mean going across countries, it simply always means: “follow me” when the Spirit speaks. I pray our church – and the WHOLE church across the world – will keep listening and following. Let it be.

Church where Pastor Tomas serves.  It is the largest of the National Metodista churches with 600 members
Church where Pastor Tomas serves. It is the largest of the National Metodista churches with 600 members

One step of Faith

Dinner after a long day of travel...we were all so ready!
Dinner after a long day of travel…we were all so ready!
The “Unexpected Guatemala Team” that is on the ground right now is a visible act of people taking steps of faith. Steve Fulton called several weeks ago with a strong nudge to help by coming to assess the numerous projects Pastor Tomas and Doris shared with our church when they visited in August.
Chester and Steve are a mess together. Their reunion was sweet; it's been too long!
Chester and Steve are a mess together. Their reunion was sweet; it’s been too long!
Steve has a mind for detail and assessment. He knows construction. He knows project management. He and his wife, Sherry, have served as host for many of our Guatemalan guests over the past 2.5 years so he is open to learning about the culture.

The Rachels and Doris. Doris is the  VIM Coordinator of Guatemala for the National Metodista Iglesia
The Rachels and Doris. Doris is the VIM Coordinator of Guatemala for the National Metodista Iglesia

Rachel Williamson (Mammagoose) took a step of faith with a call that came about 3-4 weeks after Steve’s. She was having a strong nudge too. Her gift is art and a gigantic heart. She expresses some of that through photography and wanted to come help by taking pictures. A large church needs several people who are willing to share their gifts to help tell the stories God is writing in our church family. Rachel is taking photos so we can share the larger story.

An artist at work
An artist at work
She brings wonderful ideas and most importantly, a respect and love for God’s children here in Guatemala.

Rachel at Pollo Campero
Rachel at Pollo Campero
Rock, (or Rachel Luna, as her parents named her) is learning by experience (the good, bad and ugly) what goes into planning an international mission. She was with me when we took the youth to Nicaragua in 2008. But she is not here as a high school student today; she is here as an incredibly talented young adult that is making a difference with her life. We were blessed to find her between her college graduation and the “next step” of her professional life as a social worker with a long life already of mission and service. Rachel is a “rock” and I wonder sometimes if the disciple Peter, may have been her brother…

In the 90’s some other people took a step of faith. A Methodist pastor in Guatemala had women coming to him in need of food and shelter. Their husbands and/or fathers had died in the Civil War and they were in great despair. He knew that helping had to be more than giving something to eat. His step of faith and the faithfulness of others to support him, established a mission called Ruth and Nohemi. ruth and nohemi project signHere the women learned to sew and make an income to support their families. We did learn from Pastor Deigo, who currently leads this mission, that the original women are passing their trade along by training the youth. And as it ha

The store
The store
We visit this mission often to hear the story, support their business and to be reminded that one step of faith when we’re following Christ, can change the world one life at a time. Primarily…it changes those who need it most: each one of us. Lord, may our hearts always be open enough to hear your nudge and simply follow one step of faith at a time. Let it be.
We are bringing a few items home for your Christmas shopping:)
We are bringing a few items home for your Christmas shopping:)

A day in Chichi

van arrival van arrival 2The team has arrived and the learning is in full swing. Yesterday was a day of movement. At the end we landed in Chichicastatenango. It is cold, colorful and beautiful. This is an odd place to begin our experience, but it provides a context for the visit to Pastor Sebastian’s church this afternoon. But first…the Sunday market. Sunday morning is a market day in Guatemala and while that seems so unusual for us “Tennesseans”, it is the norm of the culture here. Worship happens in the afternoon or, as in the case of the church we visited today, they worship on Monday.

The market at Chichi
The market at Chichi
The market is situated between two churches where people gather and enter for prayer. The steps of the church are filled with women selling fresh flowers and candles, people sleeping or waiting, visitors hustling about the crowd. Incense is thick and the clouds are visible…welcoming the prayers of the people as they find their way up through the crowd, in between the gatherings of trade, and to the altars of prayer. market churchThe Mayan and Catholic traditions are visible. The faith and hope of the people stands on their faces. Light another candle, add another prayer, speak to God in this place. We are guests in this culture. I want to blend in the same way the incense hangs in the room…listening as the prayers of the saints rise.

We were welcomed with a marching band of youth from the community and church at Xepezol. They played a song and Pastor Sebastian welcomed us. Then we all marched with the band and into the sanctuary. Worship was great. Lots of music and reading of Scriptures. Many greetings and saludos. This particular church reminded me of ours in Franklin, TN. They have two music groups; need more space; and there are children everywhere!

The march to church
The march to church

I preached in the church today which is a very humbling experience. Chester translates with ease so the language barrier seems not to be quite as limiting as it may seem. There is something about worshipping with people of another language and culture that resets my spirit to the greatness of God. It’s hard to accept how easy it is for God to be limited to the depths of my personal experience. How do any of us ever think for even a moment that we know the fullness of all the ways God speaks and manifests the Holy?

Looking around in the sanctuary today and I see the expressions of prayer and devotion. I sense the Spirit moving through the congregation and at times being palpable. We join in. Different languages and cultures. Different expressions and rhythms. One God. One Christ. One Spirit. I do believe that the church that represents the body of Christ is strengthened when we approach the throne of God together. It is an act of faith. It says we believe in the words: all tribes, nations, languages and races will be gathered in worship and praise. (Revelation 5). Every now and then we need to practice this unity in a very tangible way because it offers us a perspective of unity in Christ that our spirits need. Wherever and however that can happen, let it be.

Tables of Thanksgiving

Breakfast at our table on Thanksgiving Day
Breakfast at our table on Thanksgiving Day
The songs of birds that rise in the early morning bless me. Seeing my cousin as I venture into the kitchen where the smell of coffee beckons me causes me to praise. What happened yesterday? How did it unfold for us to be sitting at a table far above the little city of Xela, sharing a meal with friends in Guatemala?
A table of rest for us
A table of rest for us

For me, this is the movement of God simply offering tables, graces and places to show us more. We have shared many tables in the past few days. In fact, as I pause long enough to write, I realize that we have moved from one table to another…each one a gift of immeasurable grace.
A different kind of Thanksgiving table
A different kind of Thanksgiving table

We met Lucia and Irene in a little café after work (it is not a holiday in Guatemala). We drank hot chocolate and spoke again of deep things. We recalled the short time of our knowing one another (Lucia and I first met 4 months ago when the team was here on mission) and all that has unfolded. We are all pulled to something deeper. Aaron in his work in California; Irene with her work with many nations; Lucia with her work with women here in Guatemala; me with the church in all the ways and places God manifests it. We listen and watch daily to make sure we hear, see and honor that pull. And so…God speaks. Let it be.
IMG_7478 This is a table in my home of Tennessee that Lucia and I shared with friends this summer.
With Chester and Emily earlier this week
With Chester and Emily earlier this week

I end with an excerpt of a poem I penned earlier this year about another table of friends. And the words echo in my ear as I type…”thou prepares a table before me…”
Holy space of love gathering
Broken yet redeemed
Aging and full of youth
Stories… life history unfolding
Assembled; present.
Still more yet there is to greet
as hope and love unexpected meet
over egg sandwiches at midnight.
Celebrations and disappointments
News and sharings of life’s ebb and flow
This Holy space
leaves faith a trace
where Love remains to grow.

I am here…drawn to your Table
Arriving by way of Grace.

It’s Not Over…

Antigua provides a lovely respite and transition place. We arrived hungry and eager to get off the bus and feel the breeze. We had a late lunch at the traditional location: Frida’s. It was wonderful!

Lunch at Frida's
Lunch at Frida’s

Again we were blessed to have two new people join us: Oscar, who is a local Guatemalan with family connections to Pastora Myriam’s congregation; and Emily, who is Chester’s girlfriend. These reunions were happy and it was an honor for us to have new friends at our table.

Speaking of tables…we held our last reflection at the Bambu and shared communion together on Friday morning. As we set up for the group, we were humbled as we needed one more chair, then another, and another, and another… Our circle has grown! Our team of 18 was now a connected group of friends of 28. How could that be? IMG_6592 We were joined by Ana, Rosa and her baby Kevin, – all of Guatemala. Doris and Alberto – of Guatemala. Pastor Juan Pablo – of Guatemala. Chester and Will – of Gautemala. Felipa and Aurora – of Gautemala. Ten Guatemalans in our circle! We shared our voices of thanksgiving and awe for what we have experienced over the past 8 days.

From our communion table we each took a card that had the prayer of child on it. We will take these prayers into our individual prayer lives as a way of honoring what God is teaching us about relationship in the body of Christ. The prayers of those in the USA will meet the prayers of those in Guatemala…we are united in these prayers of the children. We realized as we sat in this special circle that we are slowly but certainly experiencing the vision John wrote about in Revelation 21: “all tribes, languages nations and races….” will be worshipping together at the throne of God. We are worshipping now….why wait?

We had two “last dinners” – one at Bambu and one in Antiqua. At the Bambu Felipa and Aurora prepared a banquet for us and served us at our table. We were so blessed by their caring and hospitality. The food was awesome too! You will see a picture below.

Our last team meal was a blast! The Don Rodrigo is a place we can all recommend. Live Miramba, which is always nice. But the added treat was the traditional dance that went on and on and on! This was so special as it gave the team another encounter with this land of culture and color. Michael and Olivia joined in on the dance which added to our joy.

Last dinner at Bambu.
Last team meal at Bambu.

You can barely see Dr. Robin but he is with us!
You can barely see Dr. Robin but he is with us on the early flight!

I’m writing on the flight home. Seven of us had to fly early because we couldn’t all fit on the other flight. It was hard to split up so we are trusting God to keep us all safe and joined in prayer – just as we have for all the other days. When we land in Nashville, we will all land differently. We are changed; we are being transformed; we are being sanctified. Our hearts have opened wider; our eyes have seen a little more of our Creator. Our spirits have been stretched. We pray this will only increase in the days ahead. We will each need grace for the transition “home”.
Doris cooking our last breakfast at Bambu. Such a gift of hospitality and grace!
Doris cooking our last breakfast at Bambu. Such a gift of hospitality and grace!

The Love of God is a powerful and mysterious gift. Jesus wanted us to focus on this love. He said it over and over again: “love one another as I have loved you”. I am grateful for the experience of God’s transforming love within this team and with all of the people we shared our days with in Guatemala. May it only increase with the Spirit and Love of Christ.