16 Jul AIM Team Blog – Friday, July 15, 2011
Friday was a great day in Panajachel, Guatemala! We awoke early, had breakfast, and headed out for a day of ministry. For the morning, we headed to the town of Ojo de Agua, a rural farming community where we were to minister in a church. This was not our original itinerary for today. However, due to the threat of rain, many of the schools remain closed. Alfredo, a leader with our partner ministry here in Guatemala, made a call and got us booked into the church.
The pastor of the church was not optimistic about the outcome of our program. They have tried a few children’s programs in the past, but children in the village were not permitted to attend. The religious establishments in this area dominate their adherents with fear. Catholicism and syncretism are predominant forms of religious practice. Most of us are at least mildly familiar with Catholicism, as it is a widely recognized form of Christianity. However, as is frequent in underdeveloped countries, the Catholic Church operates with an extremely heavy hand. Adherents are kept entrenched in traditions with fear, rather than engaged in the Word of God with the freedom of the Spirit. Syncretism, also a dominant form of religious practice, is a melding of Mayan paganism with (generally) Catholic tradition. The ultimate result is a neo-paganism that results in idolatry.
As a result of the dark religious strongholds in these communities, children are frequently not permitted to attend events at churches outside of Catholicism. In the past, when the church in Ojo de Agua held children’s programs, children in the community were told, by their parents, they could not attend. We proceeded to Ojo de Agua with faith, acknowledging that our God is bigger than religious barriers and believing that God would work through these difficulties. We arrived around 9am and proceed to unpack our equipment. The church was located up an impassable dirt road, so we carried all of the equipment in by hand. We began to play some music, makes balloon animals, and play with the few children who were around.
Little by little, children made their way out of the crops and up the dirt road to see what was going on. At first, there were only about 10. The children were very shy, not used to seeing “gringos” in their community. There was also fear in their eyes, a result of the dark religious traditions in practice. They would peek around the corners of the building, or approach the church making certain there was a wide distance between them and us. Ultimately, the love of God won the day! As we began the program, there were approximately 100 in attendance. But the time we were finished, over 160 had come into the small church. We didn’t think there were that many children in the community! There were not enough seats, and many mothers who had never dared set foot in the church, brought their children and laughed and enjoyed the program with them.
The pastor and his family were encouraged! They have been struggling through the difficulties of their calling. They moved to this area, feeling God’s call on their lives, with no prior connection, leaving family and comforts of home behind. This is something that is simply not done here. Family is of prime importance in Latin American culture, with several generations of one family usually living under the same roof. To leave extended family behind is a sacrifice of greatest price. In addition to these difficulties, there is a language barrier. The primary language in this area is Kaqchikel, a Mayan language. Spanish is only a secondary language. They were amazed at what God did, and encouraged in a time of difficulty.
In the evening we gathered for a time of reflection and prayer. God spoke mightily to our students about the importance of sacrificial giving. It has been an awesome experience to see Speed-the-Light equipment in use each day in Guatemala. This equipment is the result of sacrificial student giving. While our presence here is helpful, our missions dollars, through Speed-the-Light, are exponentially more powerful! We will be on the ground in Guatemala for about eight days. The equipment that Speed-the-Light provides will be in Guatemala, in use for the spread of the gospel, for thousands of days! We closed with a powerful time of prayer for our national friends who are laboring as missionaries in their own land.
The weekend holds a full slate of services and outreaches in churches, and we look forward to what God will do.
The Assembly of God church in Ojo de Agua
A building that has slid down a river bank as a result of the heavy rains