This week I’m in Guatemala with the relief organization World Vision, witnessing and reporting on all the incredible work they are doing here. This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be sharing each day about my experiences. I hope you find them interesting, but more importantly I hope in some small way they inspire you to act.
I went to church in Guatemala yesterday.
Not literally, but in a way that was more real than anything I’ve experienced at a “real” church in a long time.
The day began as so many church services do begin – with the singing of our faith.
In a small house down a dirt road in an out of the way village nestled among the hills of Guatemala we gathered to hear a young woman serenade us with an impromptu cello concert. She warmed up by playing parts from a handful of classical pieces, but was soon joined by her sister on the flute and together they led us in worship.
The hymns they chose have always had a powerful tug on my heart, but never so much as they did hearing them there, cloistered behind the walls of poverty.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come.
This is my story, this is my song.
As bow met string and breath met flute for the final note I realized that I’ll probably never be able to sing those songs in quite the same way again. I haven’t wandered the infinite depths of God’s grace like they have and seen the abundant storehouses of mercy from which God pours out hope and healing to the lost, the least, and the dying.
I will continue to sing about amazing grace and blessed assurance for as long as I live, but whenever those words cross my lips in the future it will come with a bitter reminder of how little I understand either.
As it turned out, our worship leader was also our preacher.
She told us the story of her life, about how being part of World Vision’s child sponsorship program had changed her life and saved her from a brush with death, how it introduced her to the world of music and inspired her to become a music teacher so she could “put music in the lives of others.”
She had come from nothing and had little, but the music she did have she wanted to give away to others as a gift of hope and healing and opportunity for a better life.
This was her story, this was her song.
After her homily ended, we traveled to another home down the road and up a hill about a quarter mile away.
It was there we encountered a sacramental moment of unexpected grace.
Shortly before we left to make our way back to our hotel, the grandmother of the home we were visiting rushed down to the corner market and brought back a humbling gift of extravagant hospitality – crackers and 7-Up.
It would cost little for most of us, but for her it was clearly a costly sacrifice.
I have to confess, it took the permission of our translator for me to get over my pride and accept the humble hospitality that was being offered. But eventually I did, eventually we all did, and as I opened my hands to receive the small package of crackers and watched as she poured the 7-Up into my styrofoam chalice, in that moment everything I thought I knew about coming together around the table for communion came crashing down around me.
Communion, a still small voice seemed to be whispering, isn’t about saying the right words or praying the right prayers or even having the right elements.
It’s about communion. It’s about the restoration of the broken, the healing of wounds, the bringing together of enemies, and the leveling of power.
And so amongst the ruins of my old theology, rich and poor, old and young, Americans and Guatemalans, we broke bread together and shared the cup together and together we caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
It was the most unusual, most unexpected, and most beautiful eucharistic celebration I have ever had the privilege of partaking in and it was, without a doubt, a moment I will never forget.
A Guatemalan grandmother who I will probably never see again this side of heaven, had taken a humble offering of crackers and soda and sanctified those elements through her sacrifice. It was an act that perfectly captured all the grace and hospitality and love and sacrifice and uniting of two worlds that the eucharist is meant to celebrate.
That little old Guatemalan grandmother had come that day not to be served, but to serve – to serve us.
She was in every way Jesus to all of us that day and in so doing became an incarnational reminder to me that “those people” in “those countries” that we think we need to save, may just be the ones to save us from our privilege and entitlement and sense of superiority and all those other things create a graceless gap between “us” and “them.”
As our unexpected church service finally came to an end and we loaded up into the van to begin the drive back down the hill and on towards our hotel, I found myself leaving that holy place with a simple, yet convicting benediction – “Go and do likewise.”
Go and serve likewise.
Go and extend grace likewise.
Go and love likewise.
Go and do.
Grace and peace,