Scotty's Journal Entry #2

"Runnin' With The Bible"

You know how we have stuff like "Cheez Whiz Month," "Lumberjack History Month" and "Play With A Slinky Month" in the U.S.?  Well... apparently August is "Bible Month" in Guatemala.  Every year, the youth group of the Presbyterian Church in Cantel (a small pueblo outside of Xela) has a "Bible Run" on the last Sunday of each August.

Selena, our site coordinator, asked us if we would like to participate in the run.  Well, I've done a bunch of 5K's before for causes like breast cancer, diabetes, birth defects, etc... so I figured that the Word Of God is reason enough to strap on a pair of Nike's and sweat a little. 

"Count Us In!" we replied.  Gabby and I both thought that this would be a great experience.

After we had signed up for the run, Selena told us this was a different sort of run.  The youth start out at the seminary in a village called San Felipe, which sits about 1000 feet above sea level.  From there, they run 37 kilometers (around 22 miles) UPHILL to Cantel, which sits at about 8000 feet.  I was only LISTENING to her describe the terrain and needed an oxygen mask and a crate of Ben-Gay.

"Uh... Selena... I don't think I can DRIVE that far, much less run."

She explained further that the Bible run is a "torch run".  It's kinda like the Olympic torch run, but instead of boxing or fencing, these folks run 'cuz they really like Jesus.  People pass the torch between each other.  Some run the full distance, and others simply run for a short while as support.  Noting how long it has been since Gabby or I have set foot on a treadmill, we fancied ourselves more as "Support" than "Full Distance" folks.  We agreed we would drive and meet up with the torch about 3-4 miles from Cantel.

The End Of The Run

The day of the run was REALLY rainy, so the youth were moving a bit slower than expected.  By the time the torch got to our "rendezvous point", night had fallen.  We were in a van and approached the runners from behind.  We pulled in front of them, the doors to the van sprung open, and we jumped out in hopes of catching up. 

We pulled up alongside the runners.  They were wearing slacks and t-shirts.  They were moving at a pretty swift pace... I would guess a seven and a half minute mile.  When we met them, they glanced over at us with wondering eyes, and just kept going.  We huffed and puffed behind them for about a tenth of a mile.  It was a difficult task, given that we were at 8,000 feet and neither Gabby nor I had adjusted to the altitude.  Another volunteer, Brian, was facing the same fate.

After about a half mile, the runners were keeping a swift pace.  Gabby's bad-belly and sea-level lungs were having trouble keeping up.  Then she noticed she was running almost alone, in the dark, on the highway, in a strange country, and she decided to try to catch up since she couldn't see me or the van.  But as it turns out, it was more of an idea than a reality.  So, she kept running for another half mile or so until the van caught up with her.  

I looked at the runners with the torch in front of me.  Each of them was about 5'5".  I reasoned with myself, "You know what?  If these guys can do it, so can I!  My legs are twice as long as theirs!"  Besides, I really wanted to get into the spirit and spirituality of the event.  So, I ran along with three ather guys, while a couple of fellas on bikes followed.  Behind them was a really long line of traffic.  The run was on a two lane mountain highway, and the "chase vehicles" numbered about a dozen or so.  In actuality, the cars were welcome.  I'm assuming most of the honking was to inspire the runners, but a few may have been from the frustrated masses waiting to pass the slow-moving mass.

There were two torches in total, and about 4 steady runners.  They passed the torches back in forth... sometimes having to run back to another vehicle to grab more fuel to keep them lit.  We had been running for about a mile and my legs and lungs were feeling the altitude.  The smoke from the torch wasn't helping, but the spirit of the runners was intoxicating.  Just when I started to think I was an interloper in this special event, one of the runners came up from behind me after refueling his torch, and held out his hand.  "Toma el torche" he said.  So, I grabbed it and joined the runner in the front.  It was an incredible feeling to share in this event, and to be asked to take a leading role of sorts. 

I was obviously a "torch carrying" novice.  The angle at which I carried the 6-pound metal rod topped with fire put out the flame after a total of 10 seconds.  I had to relight my torch two or three times from the other runner's flame until I got the hang of it. However, he extra weight of the torch was the straw that broke the camel's back.  After a quarter mile, I started huffing and puffing.  One of the runners saw me and relieved me of my duties.  It was a short-lived but well-loved reign as a torch-bearer.

When we finally reached the center of town, the runners halted.  About 20 or 30 people jumped out of the cars behind us and rushed up to join us.  Every one of our volunteer group joined in as well.  After watching someone set off bunch of firecrackers (this happens for EVERY celebration... even birthdays, so firecrackers are heard EVERY DAY here), the entire group ran through the town until reaching the church.

We were welcomed into the church and were asked to sit with the congregation.  We were sweaty, soaked to the bone, and getting a little chilly.  In a church hall that doubles as a garage, the pastor welcomed everyone and conducted a short prayer service.  It was a grand experience, especially when one of the children in the youth group said a prayer and thanked us for being a part of their event.

Afterward, the women of the church brought out a huge wash tub full of tamales and invited all to share.  They filled small tin cups full with cinnamon tea, and we all ate, drank and shared stories with our new community.  We were hugged, kissed, and greeted as if we had always been members of this family.  Gabby and I later found out that we would be living in this community following language school.  We met all but two members of our host family (Martin and his wife Graciella have six children... we will make EIGHT) and soaked in all of the warm greetings.

I would like to say that we were surprised by this, but it is simply one of many authentic, gracious welcomes we have received since coming to this country.  While the Guatemalans may not have much in the way of possessions, they offer themselves, heart and soul, to every experience.  It's been only one week here in this strange land.  We're all dealing with the frustrations of adjusting to the food, the language, the smells, the customs, and the variety of perspectives.  However, it's moments like this that make us realize why were here.  We're standing in the presence of God with much to learn and much to share.  We invite everyone to strap on their sneakers and take a few steps with us!