Letters from the Field, Part 3
My Dearest Friend,
I am hoping and praying that this time of affliction will be one of restful waiting on God. I would say that this is more than half the battle. The waiting. The expectation of something, anything, happening. Waiting, waiting, waiting can be very difficult. Waiting for healing, relief, answers, movement of some kind. I know, because I am right there with you. I am staring at 3 years of waiting and it does not look like the end is in sight. So how do I cope? I remain faithful. There’s the rub. Being found faithful is what the writer of Hebrews was talking about:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
In other words, I must BELIEVE that He is. That what He says in the Bible is true. I need to take Him at His Word. Period. I must live out my life believing that everything He says in the Bible is true. Every chapter. Every verse. Every line.
In light of that I have been thinking about God’s faithfulness in my life. Oh, I have shared stories of current history, but I am not sure you know about my time in Guatemala. God displayed His faithful so many times to me and John while we were there, in spite of my doubts, mishaps and cultural blunders. In my last 2 letters I shared about our time in Costa Rica. If you can believe it, we made it out of there in 8 months – which is unheard of – speaking fluently. Praise God! Our original plan (notice whose plan it is) was to go to Mexicali and continue working with the churches that we had been working with for about 5 years. We had been working there about 3 weekends a month, but we felt called to go there full time. About a month before we left Costa Rica we got a call from our mission board saying they had fired the two other missionary families and we were to go to Guatemala where there was a very healthy established mission. Talk about a shock. All of our stuff was in storage in Calexico and we were a month from moving. The next month was a complete blur. We discovered we were expecting, lost that baby, had to get our stuff and repack and then say a very tearful goodbye to family. Then, when we got to Guate we did not have a place to stay, a car, a phone, nothing. The missionaries in the capital graciously opened their home to us as we set about making a home for ourselves in Nimajuyu. This city was about 30-40 miles away from where we were staying and it was an apartment full of stuff. I stayed back at the mission house sewing curtains, etc., while John moved someone else’s stuff and painted our new apartment.
This complex was huge. Two 4-story buildings facing each other separated by catwalk staircases and then built in a quadrangle. About 30,000 people lived in these carbon copy apartments. We were on the bottom floor in the corner. We moved in and the other missionaries moved to the US. We were on our own. There were other missionaries, but their station was hours away in Chiquimula. We begged for a car, which was granted and we were now very much on our own. It was here that we began to see the faithfulness of God. It took moving us out and leaving us alone that we finally took our eyes off ourselves and onto God. We had been praying, but now we were pressing into our Saviour. The big looming question we had was – “What are we supposed to do in Guatemala?” Plant a church, was the answer. “How does one go about that?” Tocar puertas, was the answer to that question. So, John and I prayed for direction on which door to knock on first. We started about 3 doors down, opposite us on the second floor. We had been given a 4-week Bible study based on Mark that the other missionaries had written, “Try this”, they said. So we did. We knocked on the door. A woman answered. “You may have noticed a gringo couple down in the corner. Well, we are living here now and we are offering Bible studies for any one who would like to study and know the Bible more.” “I am so glad you are here”, she replied. “My marriage is falling apart. I have been praying for God to help me. You are an answer to my prayers. Please come in.”
So started a very special relationship with Isabel and Indalecio and their son Jorge. They all came to Christ and became our cultural confidants. We spent so much time with them. We had so many laughs, tears, outings, a lot of stuff. She is a seamstress so it was fun to watch her sew and we spent many a day at that sewing machine. Together, we began our study. Pretty soon John and I were doing studies every night of the week. We were so immersed in the language that we almost lost our English. My sister likes to remind me of the letters I wrote home – so full of errors she could hardly understand them. God met us in so many ways. Our new friends, new converts, and fun learning the culture of Guate. Whereas the scenery in Costa Rica is beautiful, it is the people in Guate that are beautiful. Very diverse. There are many different Indian tribes that mostly live outside the capital. They come to the capital to sell fruits and vegetables and their many handcrafts. So colorful.
In the midst of of all this, we had our share of ups and downs. Lots of my mishaps happened with food and cooking. Partly because I was a young cook cooking in a foreign country. For whatever reason, the cookbooks I brought with me were church cookbooks, you know the ones with add a can of this and a box of that? Well, in a third world country, those cans and boxes don’t exist! In fact, for the first 6-8 months of our time there we did not have tomato sauce. I learned that mistake the hard way. Before the missionaries in the capital left for the US I decided to treat them to homemade pizza. I was determined to make it perfect. I had made it a lot back home. Well, this gringa was so niave that she insisted that salsa de tomate was tomato sauce, when it really was ketchup. Our pizza tasted very funny. Another food disaster happened with a family that we had befriended who lived two floors up from us. We were doing a Bible study with them and we were so excited to share our lives together. I wanted to cook a special American meal for them. I got out my trusty church cookbook. I had had Chicken Divan before and loved it although I had never made it myself. I did not know to use precooked rice, or parboiled broccoli. So, after cooking the dish for quite a while, it looked exactly the same as I put it in – only drier. We had cooked chicken with stiff broccoli over rock pieces, I mean uncooked rice! Oh, but my piece-de-resistance was coming. I’ll make up for it there. I had decided to make Lemon Souffle. Had I made one EVER before? No. But that didn’t stop me. I’m fearless in the kitchen. I was anticipating a lusicious, tall, fluffy souffle. What came out of the oven was flat, about 1/2” tall, and tasteless. I apologized profusely, but I don’t think this family likes American food to this day. Who would with my demonstrations?
One of God’s amazing display of faithfulness to us was how we were able to find a building for our young church. We had about 40-50 people by now and we all felt it was time to meet together in our city. So we held a mediavigilia – medium vigil, literally. A prayer meeting. We decided to fast as a group and come together around 8 p.m. to pray together and break our fast together at midnight. Within that week we had a place. And it was right next door. Remember how big I said Nimajuyu was? Out of all the places we could have been, it was right next to John and me! Such a time of praise and thanksgiving we had as a church! Because we were growing, we did lots of funs things together. One of them was tamale making. Guatemalan tamales are different from Mexican ones.
They are wrapped in banana leaves, are square and the flavor is different. Isabel took us to the outdoor market to buy ingredients. A little of this, a little of that. All kinds of spices, chickens, corn/masa and lard. We prepared and cooked at a believer’s home in her outside kitchen. It was amazing. From hacking up the chicken – they don’t waste anything (beaks, feet, etc.), to stirring the masa over an open fire, we all had a blast. It was an all-day affair. We probably made 150-200 tamales that we sold to people in our apartment complex. We set up a booth in front of the church and we then were able to tell others about the church and Jesus. It was great fun.
God also showed us His care and compassion. We lost another baby and we were pretty devastated and had to go through some mourning. God allowed us to go through that so we could be comforted by our new friends. After a while we became pregnant again, and this one I kept! (He’s our son, Andrew). It was through this time of mourning and loss that I found that God’s faithfulness is good. I was deeply troubled and began to doubt His goodness, but He is so faithful. He showed me again and again that He is trustworthy and dependable. I look back on these times and smile because where my enemy wants me to be bitter, God made me more like Him. I still had, and have, a long way to go, but it really did begin here at this moment in Guatemala.
I could go on and on as I walk down memory lane and recall God’s goodness. We never lacked, all our needs were met. We grew by leaps and bounds and then some. After Andrew was born, God called us back the the United States. We did not understand His ways, but we had learned to trust His heart. So, we came back. When we set out, we thought we were in it for a lifetime. In reality, it was 3 years. Do I miss it? Yes, very much so.
But..."I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Philippians 4:11
So, as you tarry longer on this road of suffering a lot longer than you ever anticipated, trust in God’s faithfulness. In His goodness. He is a good, good Father.