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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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