Scott's Entry #15
"Confessions Of A
Gabby thought it would be a good idea
to begin this journal entry with a true/false quiz. It’s kind of
like a game-show on the web, only without the peppy theme song and
host with a really big hair. However, we could insert a picture of
me from high school that would cover the “host with really big
Anyhow, here were her suggestions:
1. True or False: Scott and Gabby
have indoor plumbing and bathe more than twice per week.
2. True or False: Scott and Gabby
sleep together every night in a twin bed in the middle of an adobe
room, with a plastic bucket nearby which serves as an emergency
toilet on cold, rainy nights.
to Guineales in the back of the pickup with my new "ChiPs"
sunglasses and my babushka wife
3. True or False: Scott and Gabby
would think it is a good idea to voluntarily ride for 6 hours in the
back of a scalding hot pickup truck to visit a remote church in the
hottest area of Guatemala so that Scott (who, incidentally, is not a
pastor) could preach a sermon in Spanish to a group of people that
primarily speak the ancient Mayan language of Quiché. As an encore,
they are required to sing duets in Spanish and Quiché.
Here is the answer key, so you can
see how you did.
So how did you do? If you missed a
couple, don’t fret. The answers are like a moving target. Nine
months ago, you could have answered the exact opposite and been
absolutely correct. So, we’ll issue your lovely parting gift when
we get back to the states. Rest assured, your year’s supply of Turtle Wax and
Rice-A-Roni is in the mail.
So… what is the point of all
this? Sorry to disappoint you, but there isn’t one. However, allow
me to expand upon question number 3 while you sit in your
air-conditioned cubicle reading this journal entry and pretending to
Also, please excuse the cultural
insensitivity of this journal entry. While we deeply care for
the people of Guatemala, that doesn't change the fact that we have
lived in the U.S. for over 30 years, so we still have knee-jerk
reactions to certain experiences that are outside of our comfort
zone. I only wish to share with you an honest account of our
Hanging Out With
Pastor Juan Ixmata
Three months ago, Juan Ixmata, the pastor in the
village of Guineales asked me if I would come and preach to his
congregation. It was a flattering offer. I was humbled by his
request. However, I had to let him down easy.
I told him, “Thanks for the
offer, but I’m not a pastor.”
“That’s not important.”
So, it was settled. He told me he
would like me to come and preach on April 11th. I agreed. Later I found out that April 11th was
Easter. When I saw the pastor again, I said,
“Did you know that the 11th is
Easter Sunday? You probably would like to preach to your own people
that day, since it’s so important.”
He responded by saying, “Nah…
that’s OK. You go ahead and preach.”
My attempt to get out of this task
was foiled. The good news was, as preaching topics go, the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives a guy a lot to talk about. It’s
not like having to preach about the those "who begat whom"
Bible verses, or worse yet, those depressing passages about plagues of
locusts and such. I’m guessing that for a pastor, getting to
preach the Easter Sunday sermon is like getting to be the guy who
calls lottery winners. Everybody is happy to hear the good
news you have to tell!
I envisioned myself preaching to
this group of people. Who would I want to be like? Jimmy Swaggart?
Billy Graham? The priest from “The Princess Bride”? Or better
yet, Arsenio Hall from “Coming to America?” I decided that it
would be best to leave impersonations aside and just try to get the
When I sat down to write, I
realized that I had quite a challenge ahead. How could I say
anything that would make a difference to these people?! I'm
facing an uphill battle here, with lots of problems. The first
not a preacher (have I mentioned that yet?). The second, when speaking Spanish, I have the
vocabulary of a kindergartener. In my mind, I wanted to say
very flowery things to inspire the people of Guineales. For
example, something like:
"Two thousand years ago, Jesus
faced unbelievable trials, suffering persecution and prejudice at
the hands of strangers. They beat him and mocked him, driving
his dignity to the dust. Today, the people of Guatemala face
similar suffering, feeling as if their situation will never
improve. However, we only have to remember Easter Sunday to
see that hope outlasts despair, and one day we will rise again to
new life. The Resurrection is real - a miracle that proves
that you too can conquer mountains and overcome unbelievable
However, with my kindergarten
Spanish, this comes out as...
"A really big time ago, bad
people done mean things to Jesus. Today, you see mean people
and bad things. The bad no get better to you. Remember
the day with the bunny and candy that gives hope. We live
twice. Good man no die. He live to climb big hill that
no believe you."
Pass the offering
Luckily, I have an awesome Spanish
dictionary, and some very helpful host brothers and sisters.
Together, we put together a good 15 minute rendition of your favorite
Easter message. Tack on a song or two, and I could fill twenty
minutes! Yee Haw! The only problem is that Guatemalan
preachers typically go for about 45 minutes to an hour. Being
that I had used every single Spanish word I knew (and then some) for
the sermon, the only way I could fill that time was to read the
thing four times. Rather than bore the congregation, I decided
I would just get it over with quickly, so they could all have some
Easter Sunday came, and I was all
ready to go. However, when my big moment finally came, my ride
didn't. The car that was supposed to drive us to Guineales broke down. We
waited for an hour and a half before giving up. It was a
little disappointing. Still, the pastor was very understanding
and invited me to come back on May 9th. As it turns out, May
9th was Mother's Day. It looks like I got the nod to preach on
yet another holiday. In all honesty, I thought Mother's Day
was just a U.S. thing, but apparently they’re going global with
this whole idea of setting aside a day to honor the woman who didn’t
stuff you into a car trunk and leave you for dead when you were
going through your “teen angst” phase.
I revised my previous sermon,
adding in some verses that would apply to the moms in in the
church. I kept the major theme that talked about miracles, and
how they aren't really magic. It's just about making things
that seem impossible, possible. I gave lots of examples like
a) there are many people in Guatemala who can't read, and think it
would take a miracle to learn b) and how many mothers never
believe their children will ever be healthy... but there are those
in Guineales who can make these impossible things possible.
They can make miracles. Yep... I know... kinda' cheesy.
You're probably thinking all I need is a Bette Midler song and some
bad actors to turn it into a Hallmark movie of the week. But I
liked the message and worked with some Guatemalans to perfect the
So, yesterday was May 9th.
Gabby and I walked the ten minutes to meet our ride to Guineales.
Much to my surprise, Miguel, the driver, was already waiting for
us. Most Guatemalans aren't prompt. I have often waited
for over an hour for rides, meetings, etc. However, Miguel was
fired up and ready to go. He is a really nice fella, but I
have a REALLY hard time understanding him. He chews on his
words like a baseball-sized wad of gum. Think Mushmouth from
the Fat Albert cartoons, only substitute Spanish for the normal,
politically incorrect English. In truth, I think he is the
only man I have ever met who is allergic to vowels. I believe
he swells up like an Oompa Loompa if he uses them. Most of
our conversations turn into an episode of charades, which can be
pretty entertaining. Still, I am indebted to him, especially
given the fact that he agreed to drive these two gringos for a six
hour round trip just so the goofy guy could preach for twenty
Since the cab of the pickup is
pretty tiny, Gabby and I opted to ride in the back in lieu of
enduring horrible muscle cramps and charley horses. Miguel
warned us before leaving...
MIGUEL: "crfl wth yr hts.
th wnd wll blw m ff"
MIGUEL: "yr hts!
US: "Red hots
unwind? I don't think we get it."
MIGUEL: (Pointing to his
head) "HTS!!!!!" (then he moves his arm as if
he is shooing away a large bird.)
Hats! No problem. We'll just tighten them. Thanks
We tighten our hats as Miguel pulls
onto the highway. Seven seconds later, Gabby yells "Oh
crap!" I look up to see her red Old Navy cap take flight,
and then come crashing down to earth as a Partridge-Family colored
school bus grinds it into the pavement. I slap the side of the
pickup. Miguel stops. I jump out and run down the
highway to retrieve the hat. My out-of-shape body pays the price by
finding the charley horse we were trying to avoid by riding in the
back of the pickup. Mission accomplished. Gabby thanks
me for being her hero, and we begin the journey. To avoid any
further mishaps, Gabby does her best Russian Babushka imitation and
ties her scarf around her head.
Gabby loves the
heat of the coast!
An hour and a half into the ride,
we have dropped 7000 feet in elevation. The beautiful spring
afternoon in Xela has now turned into a drive across the sun.
It's like we are trapped in Richard Simmons' legwarmers after a
Sweatin' To The Oldies marathon. The fact that neither of us
has bathed in three days is becoming very apparent. What's
more, Gabby and I are both on medicine to get rid of some amoebas we
picked up (no lie). With the heat and curvy roads, our tiny
parasites start doing "Riverdance" in our bellies.
We pull over at a brand new shopping center and walk into the only
place we know of that has air conditioning - Burger King.
Gabby suffers through a plain
hamburger, while I send the full scale assault of a Whopper and
fries toward my amoebas. After thirty minutes of cooling down,
we get back in the truck. This time, Gabby chooses to ride
with Miguel while I stay in the back.
About forty-five minutes down the
road, I hear someone yelling at me. "Oscar!
Oscar!" (a lot of people here call me that). I turn
to see a young man running alongside our pickup. It's Pascual,
a guy who works with Miguel and me at the Instituto Biblico.
He is a really tiny 26-year-old with a permanent smile. He
lives in Guineales, but for some reason, he is in San Bernardino
standing on the roadside. He flags down our pickup and we stop
Pascual has been waiting here for
the past four hours. He is in San Bernardino to pick up an
armoire for his sister. He wasn't sure when Miguel would be
coming by, so he has been watching every single car drive by in the
hopes that he would see our old, beat-up Toyota. If we can
help him lug this armoire to Guineales, he can save the 70 quetzales
delivery charge (about $9). While this may not seem like much,
it's just under three days' wages for Pascual. We gladly load
the armoire into the back of the pickup, and he and I slide in
snugly beside it. Luckily, he is the size of your average
seventh grader, so I have plenty of legroom.
During our remaining forty-five
minute ride to Guineales, Pascual tells me about his past
jobs. He cut coffee on coffee plantations. He worked in
a coffee packing plant. He walked five hours one-way to bus
tables at a restaurant near Lake Atitlan. Now, he takes care
of the small farm at the institute, making sure the weekend students
have plenty of corn, tomatoes, onions and carrots for their
lunches. He loves the job because it is steady work, even
though he only gets to come home on the weekends. Wow!
Am I thankful for my education.
We finally reach the rutted dirt
road that leads to the church. We bounce along until coming to
a stop in front of a big, bright purple building. This is the
Rey de Reyes (King of Kings) church. I jump out of the bed of
the pickup greeted by smiles and waves from people standing around
outside. Coming from inside the church is a cacophony of
sounds you have never heard before. Still, Gabby and I are
accustomed to it.
The pastor greets us and asks us to
come inside. It's 2:30. The church service has already
been going for a half an hour now. The church is an oven
inside. I am scheduled to preach at
4:00. The service should wrap up around 5:00. This three
hour God-Fest is normal here in Guatemala. While we complain
if a church service lasts longer than an hour, these folks are just
getting warmed up. It's a sight to see.
Inside, we are are blasted by yet
another Guatemalan church norm. The sanctuary itself is about
two-thirds the size of a basketball court. It is filled with
plastic lawn chairs, men seated at the right side of the room
and women on the left (a common practice in the rural areas).
The walls are cinder block, and the floors are concrete. This
creates a virtual echo chamber. Even though it is very easy to hear
in such a room, Guatemalan churches like to let the whole town know
when they are having a church service. For this reason, they
have a speaker on the roof that blasts the sermon out to the whole
village. Inside is a display of speakers and sound equipment
that would make The Rolling Stones salivate. Eight
four-foot-tall Peavey speakers are cranked up to 11 (see the
mock-u-mentary "Spinal Tap" for further
A view of the
inside of the church when our youth group came to visit. Check
out the speakers! There are more on the other side.
It's like a Metallica concert, or at least how I
think a Metallica concert might be. The only rock concert I
have ever been to was the "80's Hair Band Has-Been's Tour"
of Ratt, Warrant and L.A. Guns back in Tulsa, Oklahoma in
2000. I think they were playing the Lion's Club Pancake
Breakfast benefit or something. Anyhow, I digress. While
we see no one crowd surfing, we still opt for seats near the back to
avoid having to look for cochlear implants when we come home.
The music is not my taste.
With the painfully high volume, the tiny Mayan Woman's voice is akin
to the scraping metal one might hear when a DC-10 Jumbo Jet lands
upside down on a concrete runway. The almost-in-tune electric
bass and guitars are a nice compliment. I laugh as I consider
the irony that army officials in the U.S. are now on trial for
torturing Iraqi prisoners of war with similar tactics. And
here we sit, voluntarily, listening and smiling.
Antonio is a
really nice guy, and one of the members of the church in Guineales
who plays guitar in the "band."
However, while the
music was not my cup of tea, it was amazing to see how whole
heartedly the Guatemalans pour their souls into worship. The
music lasted for a full two hours (from 2:00 - 4:00).
Prayerful men would kneel directly in front of one of the speakers
to feel the music. Others clapped along, rhythm being of less
importance than participation. While the environment can be
challenging, and my cultural biases can get the best of me, these
services always present an opportunity to learn about persistence
and getting lost in God.
About five minutes until 4:00, the
music stops. The pastor once again thanks Gabby and me for
coming. He preps the congregation by telling them that Brother
Scott (Oscar in Spanish) has come to deliver the "Word of
God." They all sit silently as I come forward.
When I reach the pulpit, I take a
deep breath, collect my thoughts, and ready my notes for the
sermon. I open by saying, "Shej' ij", which is
"Good Afternoon" in Quiche. It's one of the seven
words that I know. The congregation laughs, as my
pronunciation is horrendous. Heck, my butchered Quiche
probably translated to "My kidney is shaved," or something
like that. However, the ice is broken, and I start the sermon.
I start off with a magic trick,
which will later be contrasted with miracles. (Magic is only
meant to fool you, while miracles are meant to truly make possible that
which seems impossible). By the blank stares from the
congregation, I am guessing that some still hold the belief that
magic is a tool of the devil. Strike one. Preacher is
demonic. Perhaps not a good choice in this heavily Mayan
area. However, it is one heck of an attention grabber.
I continue in Spanish. I
acknowledge that it is Mother's Day and ask that all of the mothers
in the congregation raise their hand. When I get no response,
I repeat myself and raise my own hand to provide an example.
This time, hands go up. The only problem is that several of
the hands belong to men in the congregation. Hmmm. Now
I'm guessing that probably only 30% of the people in the room speak
Spanish. Strike Two. Luckily, the pastor has told me
that he will translate the sermon later for those who would like to
hear in Quiche. Being that Spanish is his second language as
well, he isn't comfortable translating on the fly.
Undeterred, I deliver the full
sermon. I talk about the hope of Easter. I talk about
the sacrifice of Jesus. I tell the people that they are the
key to making miracles in their own village, acting through faith to
meet the needs of the community. From the congregation I hear,
"Amen!" and "Glory To God" very
frequently. It's very encouraging, except when they
"Amen" me in the middle of saying "Remember the time
in your village wh...." AMEN!!!!!!!!! or
"Later on I would like to tell you abou..."
Still, through the sermon I learn
that it isn't very important WHAT this red-headed, culturally
biased, slightly insensitive gringo has to say. What is more
important is that I am here in their church, sharing worship with
them. What's more, they are filling up with pride by hosting
Gabby and me and showing off their church to us. By being here
and caring, we have given these people dignity... perhaps the most
valuable gift of all. And no sermon can deliver that.
After the service, Gabby and I
visited the homes of several of the people in the village. We
wanted to see the progress of the gardens
we planted here two months ago. Some places that we
planted were like pure stone and clay. We were skeptical that
anything would grow in these places. It would take a lot of
work to keep the plants watered and the soil soft.
At every site, the people had
constructed fences around their gardens to keep the pigs out, and
tended to them daily. Many mentioned how tasty the beets were,
and how well the radishes grow. The carrots were almost
ready! We couldn't believe it! In even the most rocky
places, everything was growing. It was so encouraging to see
the progress of this mission trip. Families were living on
food that started as seed just eight weeks ago.
Gabby showing off
that was planted by the church
was the rockiest of all
done harvesting beets
But what was most encouraging was
to see the pride in the people's faces. While they could not
have purchased the seeds or received the training without the
financial help of our church back in the states, they were he one's
making sure that the project succeeded. It was by their effort
and their persistence that they could literally taste the fruits of
their labor. And this is what mission is all about. It
is not about delivering a magical sermon on Mother's Day. It
is not about bringing our God to people who already have one.
It is not about teaching the American way of doing things.
Rather, it is about partnering with people in faith. Working
with them hand in hand to find justice in a world with too much
poverty. It's about being a friend, and caring enough to let
other's realize their own full potential, rather than relying on
So, the substitute preaching
adventure is over, but the learning continues. When we were
riding home in the back of the pickup, I caught a glimpse of the sky
that just reminded me that God was in charge, and I'm only here to
be a part of his world for a while. What a beautiful
thing. Thank you God for these people who value me not for
what I do, but simply for who I am.