God was always there

Perspectives: Guatemala

Mayas and Anabaptists: A spiritual encounter

Guatemala is a beautiful country with pluricultural, multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious peoples. God allowed my birth to happen here.

What God had prepared for my life

Forty years ago, a friend of the family invited us all to visit the Casa Horeb Mennonite Church. Shortly after that I was baptized for a second time in the beautiful Lake Amatitlán and I committed to following Jesus. At the time there was no way for me to visualize all the infinite mercies that the Lord had prepared for my life.

These were the years of the armed conflict in which many people disappeared, never to be heard from again. In the midst of all the fear that arises from this kind of violence, I graduated with a psychology degree.

One day a brother in the faith invited me to become part of the Anabaptist Seminary for Latin America (SEMILLA). This opened the door for me to take an important step towards a deeper spirituality that comes through a conversion/transformation process. I also learned to appreciate and follow Anabaptist values. After studying at SEMILLA for a number of years, I graduated with a degree in pastoral theology and still teach there now.

The work of accompaniment

Next, I took on the direction of a Mayan institution, Utz Kaslemal (Good Life in the Quiché language). The mission was to provide psychosocial accompaniment to war victims among the Indigenous peoples and exhume the bodies buried in clandestine cemeteries.

There were so many people who died, and so much fear, that families buried their dead wherever they could. We put out a call to assist the people who had lost their loved ones. Whenever a clandestine cemetery would be found, we would get the call and work with the justice system and forensic anthropologists in order to accompany the families.

For every exhumation there was a before, during and after phase.

People would break down crying just remembering the faces of their loved one(s), grieving not having had time to say goodbye or to complete their mourning.

Our role was to console and strengthen them during these moments, becoming one with them in their pain.

God with us

This Psalm (85) which has been read so often at church and throughout my studies, took on flesh and came alive in my mind and my life.

Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him,
and prepares the way for his steps. (NRSV)

My unbelieving eyes saw how the truth of suffering sprang forth from the earth. How could I not look on the anguish of my Indigenous brothers and sisters with mercy? I cried out to our Father for compassion in these moments.

God was there with us; consoling and hugging and crying and washing away the tears of those women and men who mourned for the child they would never see again. How is it possible to talk about righteousness and peace, tranquility, serenity, with people in this state? Except that Divine Justice is the opposite of human justice and it only comes from God. How could we talk to them about the source of peace, hope and certainty that is Jesus?

I could feel God guiding me towards being sensitive to their feelings, emotions and pain. In silence, I pleaded with the Lord to provide them with consolation, peace and tranquility. When I watched and listened to the Mayan spiritual funeral rites, I experienced God’s presence right there, seeing us and pouring out consolation, faith and hope for each and every one.

I have been transformed and now I am an even more faithful follower of Christ! That strong, brave, indomitable Mayan spirituality along with Anabaptist teaching has taught me that following Christ is not easy; it is arduous and yet this is the way that unites us with the Father. This is the meeting place of our spiritualities.

The Lordship of Christ

Now I understand that the Lordship of Christ happens not only through a close and intimate relationship with Our Father, but also with one another, in particular in relationship with those who are dispossessed and suffer. This kind of communion only comes as a result of faith and the working of the Holy Spirit, who in infinite mercy allows us to be the presence of Christ wherever we happen to be.

The presence of Jesus in our lives overcomes any barrier we come across, be it geographical, social, racial, religious or political. He came to overcome the barriers that separate us from God and from others. He came to search for us and save us when we feel lost, and to restore twisted interpersonal relationships so that they are once again in complete harmony with the Creator.

—Olga Piedrasanta is a member of Iglesia Menonita Casa Horeb, Guatemala City, Guatemala.

This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2021.

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