Sunday marked our one week anniversary in Guatemala. Every day has brought with it both blessings and challenges as God reveals himself to us through situations great and minute. Often these situations at first appear to be obstacles, but each has resulted in rewards far greater than anything we could ever have planned on our own. For the sports and drama team, this was never more true than in our two service outings Sunday.
Our first game was in the small mountain town of Ixchuan, located one and a half hours away from our base in San Marcos. We wanted to get an early start because of the distance and asked the kids to be ready to go by 7am. Well, we are in Guatemala and pretty soon 7 turned into 8 turned into 9, and we didn't end up leaving until close to 9:30. The late start was frustrating, but didn't change the view we got to experience. As we drove up into the
mountains, we were gifted with an awe-inspiring glimpse of God's majesty: around every corner were farmers tending to fields of corn and families gathering in the streets, all to the backdrop of towering green mountains and cascading tree-filled valleys. It was breathtaking, to say the least; the manifestation of God's creativity and power shown through vegetation and wildlife.
We arrived to an extremely warm welcome. The pastor of the church hosting us had put up fliers advertising our game and outfitted the arena--a large concrete basketball court/soccer field located in the center of the city--with a sound system which he used to blast Christian music and call out to people to come watch our game and drama.
People started trickling in as we started playing, and soon the stadium was full. Little boys in leather cowboy hats perched on the walls, women in traditional skirts and blouses huddled together gossiping and giggling--it was a colorful, beautiful sight. The weather was perfect for soccer: sunny and cool with just a slight breeze. This, too, was an example of God's grace: Ixchuan is more than 7,000 feet above sea level and is the only place in Guatemala that gets snow. Way up in the mountains--indeed, the clouds--it is the closest to heaven I have ever been.
Our typical audience for the drama up until this day had been school groups ranging in age from 10-17 year olds, so we weren't sure what to expect reaction wise from this mixed group. But as soon as the kids introduced themselves and began the drama, I knew God was at work and the Spirit was moving, because instead of giggles and chatter there was silence and concentration. This continued through Otto's sermon, and lasted all the way until we finished our pick-up basketball game.
Since we got a late start we didn't have time to return to the church for lunch, so we ate with the pastor at a local restaurant. Through Carlos' translating, the pastor showered us with words of encouragement and thanked us over and over for "blessing his community with our presence." His gratitude and humility mirrored the attitude of almost every Guatemalan we'd encountered over the past week. Everyone has been so eager to serve us, for no other reason than that they have servant's hearts. It is an attitude that I admire greatly and something I admittedly lack; one of the many things I feel God calling me to change in my own life back in Minnesota.
Our second location was in a covered arena with TURF! I emphasize this because up until then we had only played on makeshift fields of concrete and cobblestone. The minute we got inside, it started pouring. (Remember, at this elevation we are literally in the clouds, so when it rains, it really rains.) As we set our things down, we realized that we once again were faced with a unique situation: there were only 21 guys there, ages 13-20, and because it was Sunday and we were in an enclosed location, we couldn't reach out and draw in people to watch. Not only that, but on our way to the field we'd run into a funeral. Funerals are public occasions here, and we saw everyone from the town pouring from houses and stores to join in the procession. It was yet another opportunity to embrace an obstacle and choose to call on the Spirit to guide our ministry.
We knew it would be awkward to do the drama for such an intimate group, so we started praying and brainstorming different approaches to sharing the Word. We decided to sit in a circle and get to know the boys we were playing. So we gathered everyone up, passed around the microphone, and shared our names, ages, and favorite colors. That broke the ice for Blake and me to share our testimonies, as well as for Carlos to share a message. Because we were allowing the Spirit to lead us into this unknown territory, Carlos was able to expand his sermon to include more than the usual five minute talk about heaven being a gift that we have to choose to receive, and how we are all sinners in need of a Savior. He used the extra time to also weave in the story of how the funeral had delayed us that afternoon, and how that is a metaphor for life: we have no control over our lives, and when obstacles pop up only God can help us overcome them. He also shared with them that we recognize life isn't easy; that abuse and peer pressure and anger and hurt are prevalent in this world, and that choosing a life with Jesus doesn't erase these things. But it does give us hope, and hope never fails.
As Otto prayed with the group, it wasn't clear how they were reacting. There was a pastor from the town there with us, and as we went back to our respective sides, I saw him talk with the boys and then talk with Brenda. I didn't think much of it and the rest of the afternoon was spent playing and loading up the bus.
Usually we spend the ride back decompressing and relaxing, giving the students a chance to talk with one another. But this time was different. As soon as we got on the bus, Otto shared with us what had happened behind the scenes that day. In the first town, the pastor had told Otto that some of the people who came to the game had never heard the gospel before, and that our drama had reached them and impacted them in a way he never could. And while I praise God for that, it was at the second place where the Spirit was moving in the most awesome, powerful ways.
During the second half of our game there, the pastor had told Brenda that all of the boys who had showed up to play that day had accepted Jesus as their savior--ALL of them. He said they'd been so impressed by our willingness to come to their country and play their game that they had opened their minds and hearts to our message. Usually we use soccer as the icebreaker and the drama as the message, but on that day in that place, the Spirit had called us to change our strategy and trust His plan to grow the Kingdom. On that day, God used us as His vehicle and showed us that even in times of uncertainty, He is all knowing, all powerful, and alway present. His plan is so much greater than ours, and when we are willing to submit to Him and His will, miracles do happen; there's no other way to explain that happened in the hearts of those 21 boys that afternoon. And for that, we praise God. To Him be the glory forever and ever.
--Ellen Burkhardt, Sports and Drama co-leader
Location:San Marcos, Sunday, June 16