In case you were wondering -- It's hard to blog at the house because we are not out to my cielo's family. I don't want them to see me posting and ask about the blog...they'd put 2 and 2 together.
(I know...13 years, you'd think they'd know something was up... first of all, very close friendships between women, tender and demonstrative, are the norm here and understood; in fact both my cielo's sister and mother both have such friendships. We are expected to share a bed when we visit. Gotta love that in a culture. Also, well, they don't ask and we don't tell. They love me -- everywhere we went they introduced me as their adopted daughter -- and that's all that really matters.)
Anyway, so I have had to post quick brief things when they're all distracted with something else. But now I'm here for a bit by myself, so I'm going to tell you about our visit to San Juan Sacatapequez last Friday.
San Juan Sacatapequez is still a predominantly Mayan town, small, laid out on the Spanish colonial model with the cathedral and the government building on two sides of the square and collonaded buildings squaring off the other sides. I had not been before so my cielo's parents offered to take me. It's a sweet little town, with open markets on the collonaded sides of the square, tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which I had not seen before (pictures to come). We went into the inside market to check out artisan crafts and such; I bought a beautiful hand-woven cloth for the communion table at HappyChurch in the traditional colors of San Juan S., deep purple and bright yellow (each village has their own color scheme; supposedly the Spaniards imposed this during the conquest so that they could keep groups separated). I hope HappyChurch likes the gift, I am fairly certain they have not had something like this in their sanctuary before, being rather traditional with their paraments and such.
When we got done shopping we were hungry, so we decided to eat at the little restaurant run by a woman my cielo's family has known since they came to Guatemala in 1981 from El Salvador, who belongs to their same denomination of pentecostal churches. And so I met Doña Juanita.
Doña Juanita is a Mayan woman barely 4 feet tall and close to 80 years old. She sat with us while we ate her food (I had carne guisada, beef in tomato sauce, and fresh tortillas. YUM.). She is one of the elders of the village, not just in terms of age but also the power she wields. Nobody really messes with her. She was delightful, telling funny stories and sharing memories with my cielo and her family, punctuating her sentences with wacks of the flyswatter. She asked me a few questions -- who was I, what do I do -- but mostly I just ate happily and enjoyed listening.
When we had finished eating and it was time to go, we gathered to pray with Doña Juanita, right in the middle of the little restaurant. I learned quickly that my cielo's family does not leave a visit without praying for and with the family. So the prayer began with my cielo's mother leading off.
To understand how they pray, you need to know there is a leader, who starts off with a few words, and then everyone else quickly joins in, a little more quietly but not always, so there is a concert of voices being lifted up at once. My cielo's mother (Mami) seems to be able to lock into a deep spiritual place in these moments which is quite amazing. I had to lead off the prayer once in El Salvador -- I'm a pastor now, after all -- and I have to admit it was very intimidating.
So, everyone is praying for Doña Juanita, asking for blessings for her and her family and her little restaurant. Mami recalls in the prayer what a good friend Doña Juanita had been to her during hard times, and there is some crying, and Mami flows between speaking Spanish and tongues.
Then I feel a hand gently grip my right arm, and I open my eyes a little and see that Doña Juanita has taken my arm...and she is praying for me, with ferocity.
She prays that I will be relieved of my sadness and my fear and my anxiety. That I will remember that God is always with me and stronger than any sadness or fear. That I not fear the demons that pester me (the demonfog??) because God is always with me. That I will be courageous because God is my strength.
She was praying for (against?) my depression. I trembled and cried a little bit, because I was just blown away by the prayer, and that she could see that in me even though we had never met and had barely spoken. How do you explain something like that?
Afterwards we hugged and I told her she had blessed me with her prayer. She smiled her big smile.
Next Sunday that pastor at HappyChurch and I are both preaching (about 5 minutes each), reflecting on where we have seen God at work on our respective trips. The text is the Emmaus story. Surely Jesus came near to me last Friday, over warm tortillas and carne guisada, in an old woman's powerful prayer. And I have to say, I've felt better ever since.
Peace, y'all --