A few weeks ago we had pizza with Gabriel’s grandmother Becky. Though we’ve shared plenty of meals together over the years, it may have been the first time we had pizza together, the first time since our short mission trip to Guatemala.
A few summers ago, I led a small group from church, including Becky and five or six other women, which would have been awkward except we met a few other groups that thankfully included other men. My motives, I confess, were not entirely altruistic, for although we went to help a local pastor in a village in the mountains, I was intent on scoping out the Guatemalan children. By then Cindy and I had our hearts set on adopting a little boy from Guatemala.
I instantly fell in love with the children, especially the little girls in their native garb. Seeing us Gringos—I’m only half Gringo, though—the kids would call out, “Dulce, dulce” (which means candy) or “Photo, photo!” They liked having their picture taken, although some of the older adults didn’t because they equated snapping a picture with capturing someone’s soul.
Our trip involved short-term mission grunt work. We helped the pastor by clearing land for their building expansion. They would soon have real walls and a roof and even a restroom on site. Our task was to shovel dirt into bags that would be hauled away in small trucks.
Pane de Vida
We also walked around the village—I guess maybe it was a town because it did have paved roads. (Does that quantify a town over a village, paved roads?) We shared Jesus with those who had a nominal Catholic background intermingled with regional Mayan worship. Some spoke Spanish, while some the native Tz’utujil. None spoke English. We relied on the lone missionary in our group who spoke Spanish so well we could hardly understand her English. (Gotta love Olga.) I had been learning a little Spanish before the trip, but when sharing the Gospel you seldom utilize words like carne, agua, or baño. I did use the word pane, however.
It was a great privilege to preach at their Sunday evening service. After some upbeat worship in Spanish, I took the microphone and quickly realized I’d have to cut some of my notes, because I had dual translators: our coordinator translated my English into Spanish, which their pastor translated into Tz’utujil. I shared about Jesus as the Bread of Life, utilizing their homemade corn tortillas as a sermon illustration, which I later ate. (Always good to have illustrations you can eat later.)
¡Buenos Diás, San Pedro!
On another day, the pastor gave us his weekly timeslot at a radio station. I joined another guy who played guitar in singing a few songs live over Atitlan airwaves, having worked out the translation for “Breathe.” Though effective, the technology was rudimentary. I remember a high school marching band practicing mid-show; they marched by right outside our studio. (The Catholic schools are pretty well funded and offer luxuries like marching bands.)
We stayed in a touristy area of town in a nice hotel, which featured tile floors, soft pillows, and indoor plumbing. We had to make sure to use bottled water to brush our teeth, because of our weak American stomachs. All week long our hosts were careful to prepare our meals, which I absolutely loved (chicken, beans, and warm tortillas)—that is, until our last night.
Carrots or Anchovies?
Our hosts wanted to show their appreciation for our help by bringing in pizza from town. I should have thought better than to eat pizza with carrots on it. The toppings were interesting but it was edible, so I didn’t complain. Every single one of us became extremely ill. I spent half the night in the bathroom, grateful at least to have one, and the other half I spent thinking I should probably get to the bathroom.
The next morning we all looked clammy and dehydrated. The worst was still to come. The three-hour drive to the airport in Guatemala City consisted of miles of switchbacks up and then down several mountains. Our Guatemalan driver would slam on the gas only to stomp on the brakes seconds later. One turn after another. One jolt after another. We had to stop several times, taking turns dry heaving on the side of the road and switching seats—whoever was the most nauseous could take the front seat.
After checking in at the airport and locating our gate and some Gatorade, I got out my iPod, cued up something soothing, put in my earbuds, and collapsed right there on the concrete floor.
I guess the moral of the story is: if you ever find yourself in a Guatemalan village, you’re better off sampling the local reefer (I was offered some) than their version of a pizza pie.
How about you? Any crazy missionary stories? Trips overseas? Ever been to beautiful Guatemala?