Determined to Give Hope in Guatemala
February 1, 2006 - Determined—it's the only way to describe Christians in Guatemala. As the Mi Esperanza broadcast dates approached, so did natural disasters, fires, car accidents and illness. Still, Christians were not deterred. No matter how the circumstances changed, the Church in Guatemala declared a message of hope in the face of destruction and despair.
by Kristen Burke
Abdiel Lopez is a busy man. He works to bring the Gospel to indigenous people groups throughout Guatemala and pastors a church in San Juan Sacatepequez, nestled in the mountains between Guatemala City and the historic city of Antigua. He is a husband and the father of three daughters. He also is the national mobilization coordinator for Mi Esperanza in Guatemala and an example of the Guatemalan Church's determination.
In September, Lopez was preaching at his church when people came running into the church and said, "Your house is burning down!"
Lopez and his family rushed home, only to find smoking rubble. It appeared that a gas leak had caused the house to explode. Other than the family pets, which somehow had managed to escape, the Lopezes had nothing left but the clothes on their backs.
But Lopez believed that God would take care of his family. He refused to allow the tragedy to derail his work on the Mi Esperanza project, even though his lease required him to rebuild the rented home. His family found temporary housing when someone offered them a newly furnished apartment right next door to their church. The apartment was small for a family of five, but they were thankful.
"I don't have to worry about my things," Lopez said, "because God is worried about them. He has provided for all our needs."
The Lopezes weren't the only family to experience difficulties before Mi Esperanza. Six of the project's regional coordinators had car accidents before the broadcasts. Other coordinators or their wives suddenly became ill, and their doctors said they did not know what was wrong.
But leaders were undeterred, and some 160,000 Christians from 6,115 churches attended training sessions to prepare themselves to host Mi Esperanza house parties Nov. 17-19.
'Where Would You Go?'
Mynor and Orbe Fuentes are in a happy mood. A small lobby in their apartment building in Guatemala City is filling up with stone-faced gang members—many with whom they've been building relationships through music and soccer. Mynor hurries into his apartment for more chairs and flashes a thumbs-up at Orbe. Most of these young men have been involved in drinking, drugs and prostitution, but Mynor knows that God is calling them to Himself.
"This is the night for them," he says. "It's a big opportunity. I have normal hello and goodbye contact with them, but [Mi Esperanza] is another level of contact."
Seven young men, mostly dressed in baggy jeans and black shirts, sit quietly and watch the broadcast, which includes the testimony of Rolando Fonseca, a Guatemalan soccer player. Then Billy Graham speaks about the Rich Young Ruler and how putting one's faith in Jesus will bring forgiveness. Although the sound of pots and pans clanging together, phones ringing, and people talking rings out from the other apartments in the building, the youth aren't distracted from Mr. Graham's message.
After the program, Mynor tells how a tragedy in his life brought him to Christ. He and his best friend, Omar, were raised in the church but left at age 14. Omar began working in discos and bars. One night when he was 18, he was struck and killed with a beer bottle. He had no opportunity to turn to Christ. Omar's death caused Mynor to return to church and commit his life to Jesus Christ.
"If you died today, where would you go?" Mynor asks his guests. "Maybe you think that going to church with your mother will be enough, but you have to meet Christ." The young men bow their heads as Mynor prays and asks if anyone wants to accept Christ. Four youths raise their hands and pray a prayer of salvation with him. When they lift their heads after the prayer, the stony looks on their faces have been replaced with shy smiles.
David, a 15-year-old who prayed to receive Christ, says that when Mr. Graham said, "Jesus is knocking at your heart's door," he felt Jesus calling him. Now that David has put his trust in Jesus, he says, he feels happy and has peace.
The Fuentes have explained the Gospel to these youth before, Orbe says, "but sometimes they need to hear it from someone else."
Hope After Disaster
Just weeks before Mi Esperanza, Hurricane Stan doused Central America, causing flooding and landslides in hundreds of poor, rural communities. Hundreds of people lost their lives, including 95 who sought shelter in a church involved in Mi Esperanza. Many communities were declared mass graves, as scores of bodies were buried beneath rivers of mud and debris. Some 35,000 homes were destroyed, leaving thousands homeless and without food, blankets and clothing. For days, the roads to these villages were impassable.
Could Mi Esperanza continue in these communities after such a disaster?
For many churches, the answer was yes—but the project would have to change.
The Lake Atitlan area, where Juan Abraham Sojuel Navichoc was regional Mi Esperanza coordinator, was hit especially hard. In the city of Santiago Atitlan, Navichoc was in the first stage of training families at his church, Iglesia Alfa y Omega.
"In my church alone, we planned to have at least 150 [Mi Esperanza] homes," Navichoc said. But on Oct. 5, several mudslides ripped through the region, including the village of Panabaj, where Iglesia Alfa y Omega had planted two churches. Although a mudslide passed within about 15 feet of one of the churches, the two buildings were among the few left standing in the village.
"After the mudslides ... we had to start a different kind of Mi Esperanza project," Navichoc said.
Before any aid could reach the villages, people began looking to Iglesia Alfa y Omega and its daughter churches for shelter and help. People who had not lost their homes began bringing food to the churches. Deacons and deaconesses from the two churches began going door to door asking for food, blankets and mattresses for the mudslide survivors. The churches' 65 deaconesses then joined the churches' evangelistic team of 150 women to prepare food every day. For four days the community and churches worked together to provide food and shelter to the homeless. After five days, the roads opened and churches from Guatemala City were able to bring in food and supplies, so Iglesia Alfa y Omega sent their youth to distribute food around Lake Atitlan.
But the biggest need still loomed. The people of Lake Atitlan are Tzutujil (pronounced "soo-too-hill") Mayas, a communal people whose land has been taken from them over the years. Many Tzutujil barely make a living through migrant work or by planting on land owned by others. With their homes and crops buried under as much as 15 feet of mud, they had nowhere to go.
"We had to start a new kind of Mi Esperanza home," Navichoc said. "We had to build homes." To give their neighbors hope, Iglesia Alfa y Omega voted to donate the land from one of the Panabaj churches to the community so that cinder-block homes, a communal kitchen, a water system and latrines could be built. The people have named the new site Colonial Alfa y Omega after the church.
Navichoc reports that 45 people have received Christ because of the churches' efforts after the landslide, joining more than 47,445 Guatemalans who made commitments during Mi Esperanza. "Many say the mudslide was a calling from Jesus ... to come back to the Lord," Navichoc said. "The voice of God was in the mudslide."