Archives For Guatemala

On many nights here the dinner hour and the worship hour we’ve scheduled blur together, the dinner table becoming the communion table.

Just like it was in the ancient church. Just like it should be, I think.

Because the mountain village where we’re working this week is so remote, we’re not lodging or eating in the city below as many volunteer teams do. We’re here in the village, housed and fed by the same people we’re serving.

I can’t really describe how it feels (humbling? unnerving? indicting?) to be fed by people for whom the sound of an empty belly is as present a daily reality as the barking of the wild dogs at night. I eye my portions, trying to imagine what they look like through Mayan eyes. I clean my plate because, well, there are children starving in Guatemala.

Every meal time I feel like the categories we’ve brought with us as do-gooders from the States are upended. I mean… we’re there to serve but then there at the table we discover we’re the ones being served. It’s at the table I realize how fluid is the distinction between who’s the servant and who’s the served. It’s when that same dinner table transitions to the communion table that I realize this fluidity is exactly how it should be.

In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer, says:

‘Christian community at the table signifies our obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread. Thus we are firmly bound to one another not only in Spirit, but with our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our community unites us in a firm covenant. Now no one must hunger as long as the other has bread…as long as we eat our bread together, we will have enough even with the smallest amount. Hunger begins only when people desire to keep their own bread for themselves. Could not the story of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread also have this meaning?’

On many nights here the dinner hour and the worship hour we’ve scheduled blur together, the dinner table becoming the communion table.

Just like it was in the ancient church. Just like it should be, I think.

Because the mountain village where we’re working this week is so remote, we’re not lodging or eating in the city below as many volunteer teams do. We’re here in the village, housed and fed by the same people we’re serving.

I can’t really describe how it feels (humbling? unnerving? indicting?) to be fed by people for whom the sound of an empty belly is as present a daily reality as the barking of the wild dogs at night. I eye my portions, trying to imagine what they look like through Mayan eyes. I clean my plate because, well, there are children starving in Guatemala.

Every meal time I feel like the categories we’ve brought with us as do-gooders from the States are upended. I mean… we’re there to serve but then there at the table we discover we’re the ones being served. It’s at the table I realize how fluid is the distinction between who’s the servant and who’s the served. It’s when that same dinner table transitions to the communion table that I realize this fluidity is exactly how it should be.

In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer, says:

‘Christian community at the table signifies our obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread. Thus we are firmly bound to one another not only in Spirit, but with our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our community unites us in a firm covenant. Now no one must hunger as long as the other has bread…as long as we eat our bread together, we will have enough even with the smallest amount. Hunger begins only when people desire to keep their own bread for themselves. Could not the story of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread also have this meaning?’

Our mission team this week is using Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together to guide our worship and reflection in Guatemala. It’s a short little volume that Bonhoeffer wrote in 1938 after the Nazi’s closed the Finkenwalde Seminary and Bonhoeffer responded by starting his own underground seminary. Life Togetheris Bonhoeffer’s account of what constitutes authentic Christian community. I think it’s as timely a book for this century as it was for the middle of the last because Bonhoeffer was attempting to think through how Christians formed faithful community while living in the midst of an empire.

I’m hoping that it will prove a helpful book for our group because creating a sense of community amongst our mission team participants and building Christian community with the people we serve is, when you get right down to it, why we do mission. It’s certainly what I, as a pastor, hope our mission program provides.

Life Together begins with Martin Luther’s concept of ‘alien righteousness;’ that is, as sinners there’s nothing within us and nothing about us that justifies us before God or naturally connects us to God. Any connection, relationship or righteousness we enjoy before God, Luther says, must be an ‘alien righteousness.’ It must come from outside us.

Luther used this idea of ‘alien righteousness’ to emphasize our intrinsic sinfulness, the futility of trying to justify ourselves by our deeds and the importance of the preached, converting Word. That’s all fine. But the way Luther lays it out usually leads to very individualistic understandings of the Christian faith. What Bonhoeffer does with ‘alien righteousness’ is more interesting, more life-giving and, I think, more biblical.

Bonhoeffer says alien righteousness is the root of all Christian community. Because there’s nothing within us that naturally connects us to God that connection has to come from someone besides ourselves: other Christians, Bonhoeffer says.

‘Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the word of salvation. The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians. The goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.’

Our life together as Christians in community becomes something much more profound in Bonhoeffer’s formulation. It’s not that it’s in the context of Christian community that we journey towards salvation in Christ. It’s not that we’re primarily individual believers and community is an optional, additional activity- the way so many think of it today.

Authentic Christian community, Bonhoeffer says, is salvation. Our life together, as Christians, is the experience of salvation in the here and now. Just as God’s grace took embodied flesh in Jesus Christ, so too does God’s grace continue to reside and get transmitted through flesh, through ordinary people.

Luther’s notion of alien righteousness tended to imply that we’re saved by hearing an abstract, disembodied ‘Word’ from far outside us.

Bonhoeffer closes the loop by showing how the righteousness that must come from outside us more often than not comes from the person next to us.

Not only do our lives literally depend on one another, our life together is a gift made possible by Christ; therefore, Christian community should always be marked by joy.

It’s this giftedness and joy of community that I think people most often discover in mission settings. Far removed from the minutiae of church budgets, church committees, church programs and all the rest, mission work offers Christians the chance to rediscover what the saints meant by the believing community offering a foretaste of the heavenly community.

 

Our mission team arrived in Guatemala yesterday afternoon. Among the 30 team members are high school students, college students, 20 and 30-somethings (thank God I’m still in that category), adults and retirees.

 

And one rising first grader.

 

Ali and I first met Gabriel- he was first ‘delivered’ to us- here in Guatemala on Easter morning when he was just 15 months old. For me then, Guatemala always will be the place where I saw my son’s tears turn smiles and laughter for the first time, the place where I changed my first dirty diaper, the place where he fell asleep against my chest for the first time and the place where I referred to myself as ‘Daddy’ for the first time out loud.

 

Ali and I brought Gabriel back to Guatemala when he was 2 1/2 as part of a service team from Aldersgate. That summer we took the very boat ride we did this morning across Lago Atitlan to tour an indigenous-run coffee farm. Lago Atitlan is the largest, highest lake in the Americas. Surrounded by volcanoes and mountains it’s a beautiful place that belies the poverty the scenery hides.

 

Back when he was 2, I had to hold Gabriel close to me in the boat to keep his dramamine-heavy head from snapping back and forth to the waves. Not so today. Already much is different this time around. Now, Gabriel’s here knowing this is where he came from, a fact that makes him proud- proud to be from a place that has volcanoes and steep mountains, where ‘indians’ still exist and where boys can carry hundreds of pounds of wood on their head up a mountain.

 

This time around Gabriel knows this is the place his Dad goes to several times a year for weeks at a time. He understands and can even tell you that the Mayans we’ve met here are a people to whom he also belongs. He knows why our team’s here, the projects we’ll construct and why we do so.

 

It’s his understanding of his connection to this place that makes it different this time. Not simply a toddler on my back this time, he notices everything. It’s as though he’s discovering rooms in his house he never knew were there before.

 

As his dad, it’s like Christmas morning for me, getting to see the wonder in his eyes as he opens a secret that this new place has gifted to him. I’m delighting in seeing his delight that a place in the world could be so different that you have to do something different with your toilet paper after you’ve done your business.

 

I’ve read a lot of articles on parenting and fatherhood recently that emphasize the importance of rites of passage for boys’ development. I brought Gabriel with me this time because I wanted to start building such a rite into our family, but now that we’re here together I realize that, more than that, this is just a place he and I share together. And always will.

Aldersgate’s second mission team left for Guatemala this morning. A mixed-group of 30 students and adults will be constructing a school kitchen in Chiqusis, a remote village above the highest point on the Pan-American Highway. Thanks to everyone at Aldersgate and in the community who helped fund this needful project.

Aldersgate has served in Chiquisis before. In the first picture you’ll see the school above where we will be working:

Aldersgate’s second mission team left for Guatemala this morning. A mixed-group of 30 students and adults will be constructing a school kitchen in Chiqusis, a remote village above the highest point on the Pan-American Highway. Thanks to everyone at Aldersgate and in the community who helped fund this needful project.

Aldersgate has served in Chiquisis before. In the first picture you’ll see the school above where we will be working:

A group of 32 Aldersgate youth is building wood-stoves in the community of Llanos de Pinal near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala this week. The stoves not only address the immediate problem of respiratory disease from open-pit, indoor cooking, the stoves also provide Mayan women the time away from home to be trained in vital new skills.
This is the fourth year in a row Aldersgate has returned to this community to serve. The team is working with the help of a community organizer, an Aldersgate intern Margaret Corum and AMA staff to build 16 stoves for families active in the women’s circle.

As some of you know, Aldersgate has a mission team serving in the Mayan Highlands of Guatemala this week and another team set to leave Saturday, over 60 in all.

You may not know that Laina Schneider, church nerd and agricultural student at Virginia Tech, is interning for Aldersgate this summer in Guatemala. She’s been doing site assessments and soil studies for village women’s circles to develop their own greenhouses. She’s been blogging during her time there. I think you can see through her words and pictures not only the important work we’re doing there for others, but also the deep impact such work has had on Laina and hundreds of others at Aldersgate.

Check out her Wanderlust blog here

As some of you know, Aldersgate has a mission team serving in the Mayan Highlands of Guatemala this week and another team set to leave Saturday, over 60 in all.

You may not know that Laina Schneider, church nerd and agricultural student at Virginia Tech, is interning for Aldersgate this summer in Guatemala. She’s been doing site assessments and soil studies for village women’s circles to develop their own greenhouses. She’s been blogging during her time there. I think you can see through her words and pictures not only the important work we’re doing there for others, but also the deep impact such work has had on Laina and hundreds of others at Aldersgate.

Check out her Wanderlust blog here