Our last day in Guatemala was a cultural day, and our host took us to the country’s original capital, Antigua. The Spanish had established it with a cathedral in the 1500s, but after two earthquakes caused heavy damage, the capital was moved and Guatemala City was created. The old city is cobblestoned, and riding in the van is not for the faint of stomach. We visited Cerro de La Cruz (Hill of the Cross) where there is a cross on a high hill that overlooks the city. Most of our team climbed up the 300+ steps to the viewing location.
While overlooking the vista Dr Elry explained that before the Spanish came to Central America ten million people lived between southern Mexico and the south of Nicaragua. Within two hundred years, after the Spanish brought measles and the black plague to the New World and the Spanish slaughtered the native folks who would not convert to Catholicism, the population was less than half a million. There are no longer indigenous peoples in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica because of this. He also explained that the colorful clothes that we think are native dress were actually the uniforms that the Spanish imposed on the population to indicate under whose authority a particular tribe was ruled.
We then drove to a shopping plaza to purchase gifts for those back home. Sharing our experience in some small way seems like an important responsibility. Our families sacrificed to have us away, and some friends have sponsored our stay here. There are many small stalls surrounding three courtyards, with vendors selling textiles, leather goods and jade products. Even without meaning to, we haggled over prices. If one of us said we just wanted to keep looking after admiring a piece and started to walk away the vendor would begin to lower the price.
Why is a mission team going on a tour of a city? The work was hard, sweaty and tiring. Having a chance to rejuvenate before going home and see some of what Guatemala has to offer gave us better insight into the beauty and complexities of this country which was colonized in 1500, and then effectively colonized again by American corporate interests in the second half of the twentieth century. Seeing some of its historical highlights compared with the poverty that we have seen all week gave us a more nuanced understanding of our Latin neighbor.
For lunch, our host took us to, of all places, a creperie. It was delicious! We ate next to a huge avocado tree, with hundreds of fruit ripening on its branches. Next, we went to the cathedral ruins. Open to the sky, the stone walls, covered with moss, connected us to the thousands of people who had gone through its stately wooden doors in the past. We descended downstairs to the crypts only to find that their contents had been moved to the new cathedral.
Our last stop was a visit to a coffee farm which included a coffee museum and chocolate shop. Guatemala is known for its coffee, which has been delicious during our time here. We watched as the chocolate maker showed us the process of taking the cocoa bean through its processing to make chocolate.
What a privilege for us to make this journey. We have been blessed to serve and feel that we have learned and received so much more than we have given these beautiful people. If you feel tugging at your heart to serve in this way, please listen to it. It will change your life. If you are unable to do so yourself, can you serve through someone else’s hands? God works through us, and you can also serve by supporting someone else to do so. It takes a village.
Our devotion this morning from today’s Portals of Prayer included the verse Matthew, Well done, good and faithful servant Matthew 25:23. A remarkably fitting passage, when we think about the dedication and daily sacrifice made by Dr. Elry and his family.
Adios. May God give you peace.