Roosters. Earthquakes. Machine guns. What do these all have in common? They are all things our SLI team experienced in their first 24 hours in Guatemala City. After a day of flying, we crashed at our host, Hector Aragon’s, mission house. We enjoyed a fabulous symphony that first night; dogs fighting at 1:00AM, a confused little rooster at 2:30AM, an “earth-shake” (minor tremor) at 4:00AM and that darned rooster again at 5:00AM. I was ready to have that rooster for breakfast by the time I abandoned sleep at 6:00AM! Fortunately, great Guatemalan coffee helped restore our team’s spirits before we headed to a Guatemalan mega-church of about 6,000 people for their Sunday Service. We were greeted in the parking lot by attendants toting machine guns and whistles. We got a sharp whistle in our direction when we stopped for a moment too long. I have never appreciated Koinonia’s parking attendants so much!
However, as we entered the building, it was an entirely different experience. We took our seats and worship started. God’s presence was tangible. It is hard to describe that experience. The songs were all in Spanish and we could only pick up about every tenth word, but the unity in that place was astounding. We were singing words we didn’t know in a country where we were strangers, but it felt like home. “This is what the body of Christ is supposed to be like,” I thought. As our trip went on, I began to see that God will truly show up anywhere the church gathers in his name.
As we visited several schools over the next couple days, we had the opportunity to present the gospel to over a thousand kids through teaching, skits, singing and even dancing (yes, we all danced – that in itself was a small miracle!) Many of these kids had never heard the Gospel message and we had the opportunity see a great number come to Christ. There are far too many stories about these children, pastors, and missionaries to share them all here. We heard the story of a young, pastoring couple whose five-year-old son had died. They gathered around their son and prayed for him for fifteen minutes. Suddenly, he started breathing again. The faith of these people was overwhelming. I only hope we encouraged them a fraction of the amount they encouraged me!
After seven days of ministry in Guatemala, we made the trip over to Honduras. The next four days were spent doing ministry at schools in a squatter’s village outside Tegucigalpa. The community was a rough shamble of shacks put together from whatever scraps could be found, from tin to old tires to garbage bags. When it rained, their streets turned into garbage rivers flowing down the mountainside. For the past two years, Dale and Caroline Ruttan, have been working hard to establish ministries in the public schools of this area. The stories that came from this village broke my heart. Dale shared with us how he had been speaking to a grade 3 class. After hearing from one of the kids that his father had been just murdered the week before for his motorcycle, he asked how many other kids had lost a parent either to death or abandonment. Every single child raised their hand. Every. Single. One. Sickness runs unchecked. Crime is rampant. A person could get killed for 100 lempiras, the equivalent of about seven Canadian dollars. This is where these kids are growing up.
However, one story of a little girl named Daniella, impacted me more deeply than any other. We were at one of the schools and she came skipping up to me. “Quantos tienes años?” (How old are you?) I asked her. Smiling, she held up six little fingers. She then proceeded to give me the tightest hug ever. I laughed and picked her up and spun her around. Other kids started lining up for “spinning hugs” but after every two kids, there was Daniella again, begging to be held. After most of the other kids had gone to chase other SLI students, I picked Daniella up and was walking around with her when Caroline came over to me.
“It’s really awesome that you can spend time with her,” she said. “At home her mom is busy with other men and doesn’t have time for her. She wants love so badly that she will take her clothes off and stand outside her neighbours' doors and say, ‘I love you. I love you,’ just to get their attention.” Something inside me broke. I hugged Daniella tighter and wished I could pour all the love of God into her. My heart broke for the life she could end up in if this is what she did at six years old. This is why the church so desperately needs to do what it is called to. There are a million other Daniella’s in the world who need what only God can give them. And God chooses to operate through us. This is why our mission is so important. Jesus’ last words before leaving earth were, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” I hope that these stories encourage you to do just that. We are called to be the hope of the world.