Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Letter From the Herfst Family

Written by Ken and Jackie Herfst
The blue and white Guatemalan flag flutters limply in the early morning breeze as I sit on the school porch in Chirramos. Beside me three men are playing the marimba (a large instrument somewhat similar to the xylophone). Another man stands beside them and plucks the strings of the large bass instrument. It is impossible to communicate to the man sitting on the bench beside me while they play, so we wait for the time between songs to converse. Children run happily around the school yard, dressed in their best clothes. Today is September 15th and is Independence Day--a national holiday!

Santiago, my helper, and I arrived the evening before, coming on foot from another community, Pachijul, some two hours away. We are here at the invitation of the community leaders and the young teacher. They asked us to participate in the festivities of the day and gave permission to give New Testaments to the school children who can read.

On the evening of the 14th we spend some time with a young lady, Katarina, who is related to Santiago and attends our services in Cubulco from time to time. Katarina had been very sick some time ago, and it made her think about the real issues of life and death. Since then she has expressed an interest in the things of God and wants to become a member of our fellowship.

After a supper of re-heated tortillas and a very spicy egg and tomato soup, washed down with 'masa' water (the water that is collected during the process they use to make tortillas), we sit down for a Bible study together. I want to impress on them both the urgency and the greatness of the salvation that God has provided in Christ. We turn to Romans 6:23, where the Word of God contrasts death as the wages of sin, with God's gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We talk for some time; Santiago periodically translates into Achi to ensure that she understands.

During the course of our discussion we ask about other family members who had received Achi tapes of the New Testament from us. They live in another nearby aldea, Patuy. An elderly member of that community has forbidden them to listen or even touch the cassettes. This is an area where witchcraft is rampant and many refuse to abandon the way of their forefathers. Very few people can read and superstitions hold sway over their hearts.

This year, Guatemala is suffering from a crippling drought. Many insist that the increased number of Evangelical Christians is the cause of the drought and so those from Patuy fear that these tapes will in some way contaminate them. Santiago attempts to explain to Katarina that this is not the case. It is not the last we will hear about this during our trip.

After some small talk, we lie down for the night. That night heavy rains pass through the area. I can't help but wonder how they will interpret my coming with the arrival of the rain. One could not ask for better timing!

Meanwhile, back at the school, more and more people are congregating. Women and children sit together while the men lean against the wall on the other side. Finally, it is time to start. The marimba players lay down their sticks, but the music continues to ring in my ears for some time.

The teacher, a young, pleasant Latin girl who would hardly reach five feet, calls everyone's attention and proceeds to initiate the activities. A string of firecrackers bursts the stillness of the morning and re-echoes again and again off the steep mountains that surround the aldea. Babies cry and some of the ever-present dogs whine.

Everyone is asked to rise as the National Anthem is sung. Someone repeats the request in Achi as the women remain seated; many of them hardly understand Spanish. When everyone is on their feet, the singing begins. Only some of the children and a few men join in. As the Anthem progresses--it has numerous stanzas--the number of singers dwindles. The remaining patriots crane their necks as they strain to follow along with the help of a song sheet that one of the boys has.

Next in the program, the children present various songs dealing with Guatemalan legends. A poem about the flag is recited and then Santiago and I are given the floor.

Santiago is originally from this aldea and knows everyone. Speaking in the Achi dialect, he introduces me and I make my way to the front with my Bible. After formal greetings, I take my starting point from Psalm 33:12: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." Liberty and peace are great blessings, but it is not enough, I tell them. A nation can only truly prosper when it knows the Lord. To encourage the children to pursue such knowledge, I tell them about Jesus' attitude toward children. Mark 10:13-10 forms the text from which I base my message.

Santiago translates my message and then proceeds to add a bit more. He wants to deal with some of the misunderstandings that exist regarding the Bible and Evangelicals. One man in particular begins to dialogue with him. He asks: "Isn't it enough just to keep the Bible under your pillow at night? After all, God is in the Bible, isn't He?"

With the help of the teacher we distribute the New Testaments to the children who can read. The younger ones receive a booklet of the Gospel of Mark. A few adults also ask for a New Testament, which we gladly give. I again encourage the children to read the Bible and after thanking everyone for the opportunity to participate, I take my seat. Santiago, however, isn't finished yet! He continues on for another twenty minutes as he urges them to study the Word of God for themselves and see if what we've been saying is true. There is more discussion and I wince as the question comes up about the Apocrypha (non-canonical books that are sometimes included with the Bible). Santiago, with good intentions, calls it 'false.' I make a mental note to discuss this with him on the way home. There was a time when the Puritans considered it an offense to publish a Bible without the Apocrypha! As he reaches his conclusion, Santiago takes his seat again.

Next on the program are a few children's games. In the first one, boys tie small balloons on the calves of their legs. The object of the game is to burst the other's balloon. Around and around they run, until only two inflated balloons remain. The crowd of parents and children yell encouragement to their favourite player and when it is all over, the winner quietly disappears into the crowd. Participating in the game was more exciting than winning!

In the second game, a "pinata," a large paper mache bunny filled with candy, is suspended from a rope. The children will be blindfolded, given a stick and are expected to beat the "pinata" until the candies spill out on the ground. While the preparations are being made, Santiago and I talk with the aldea leaders about some community concerns.

By this time it is nearing eleven o'clock and we decide that if we want to get back to Cubulco in time, we should be on our way. After a quick photo session, Santiago and I make the rounds, shaking hands with all the men. We wave goodbye to the rest and head down the winding trail to the river. The current is quite strong and that, coupled with slippery rocks, makes the crossing a bit tricky. We safely reach the other side and re-dress.

Santiago's brother-in-law has now come home, so we share lunch with them: sorghum, tortillas, hard boiled eggs and "masa" water. We hurry to gather our things and after a parting prayer are on our way. It is now noon: the sun is brutally hot and we have a climb of no less than four kilometres, virtually straight up, just to get to the summit. From there it is about another three and-a-half hours to town. My mind wanders from tall glasses of iced tea to delicious fruit punch! This has got to be the worst climb in the Cubulco area; nevertheless, we are convinced that it is but a small price to pay for the joy of bringing the Word of God to these remote people. The physical obstacles shrink in comparison with the spiritual ones that need to be overcome.

To be continued, D.V.

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