Over the weekend of September 21-23, 2012, Dr. Anne Ruch and I visited the Peten for a grand total of 36 hours. It was a whirlwind visit which moved multiple goals and projects one more step forward. Most importantly, however, were the visits to friends and the hope that these visits carried.
We took time to have lengthy discussions with Ismael and Orfe, our Guatemalan SewHope team members, about how their desired future for their family intertwines with the unfolding projects of SewHope. The plan is that I will be living with this family in about a month. What changes need to be made to allow this to happen? SewHope has architectural drawings for a community center that we wish to build in this area. Would Ismael and Orfe prefer to live in their current two room home or plan to live on the community center grounds? Our combined future is built on hope.
We took an afternoon to travel to visit the families of the poor village of Pueblo Nuevo. SewHope spent over two years working with the community on various projects in this village, but due to increased danger in the area, decided that we could no longer assist in the same way. But many friends live in Pueblo Nuevo, and their surprise to see the van with familiar faces was an incarnation of hope.
Several persons stopped the van as we attempted to leave Pueblo Nuevo. One woman wanted Anne to look at her 6-month old baby who has severely crossed eyes. Anne knew the woman who had named her oldest son after Anne's husband, Randy. Anne could speak words of hope to this mother that her child would be able to see.
I was able to visit the principal and one of the teachers in the school in Purcilla. I met them for the first time in March 2012. When we met for the second time on Sunday you would have thought that we had been the best of friends for unending years. What binds us is hope.
Anne was able to visit Daniel in his home. About two years ago, at the age of 14, Daniel was in an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Our friendship has been and continues to be a long and hope-filled journey.
Rudy came to visit with us in Flores. Rudy is a Guatemalan man who is helping SewHope to plan and carry out the surgery week scheduled to take place in his home town of San Cristobal, Guatemala. I was so touched by the faith and passion of this young man and the hope that he has for his people that twice during the meal I reached over to touch his hand to make sure that he was real.
Several of you have also shared hope. Thank you for the new dresses and baby blankets. We are not always able to bring everything we would wish to share, but these items were perfect.
Hope is an action word. Great hope is shared in a simple word or gesture.
Bruce Wilkinson in his book The Prayer of Jabez shares: "Of course, what you know about this or any other prayer won't get you anything....It's only what you believe will happen and therefore do next that will release God's power for you and bring about a life change." The italics are his. They challenge us to make hope real by taking the next step. What do you hope for? What is your next step?
Except for a few rare cases such as the grave marking above, I do not believe that any of us would be able to tell this cemetery apart from a cemetery near our own homes. Great care is taken of the monuments and of the grounds. The cemetery is a very sacred place. On November 1, the families will come and decorate the graves of their beloved dead. We do the same on All Souls Day in the Catholic tradition. What is different here is that the families will often gather at the graves on this day and share a meal.
You will notice that all of the monuments and graves areas are white. On the day following this walk to the cemetery, we witnessed a funeral procession. All of the persons were dressed in black. This is the tradition unless the person being buried is a child, in which case, all wear white.
It is the law in Guatemala that a person be buried within 24 hours of death. There may be a few more hours added if the person dies in the middle of the night. If the person dies in the hospital, the family carries the body of the person home from the hospital in the casket in which he or she will be buried. In either case, the immediate family prepares the body for burial. Embalming is not performed in Guatemala. The body will then be in the house of the family until burial. There is a funeral home in Guatemala as well as traditions begin to change.
In the funeral that we witnessed, there was a Mass held in the Catholic Church. This is a service that lasts 30 minutes. Afterwards, in this case the body was put into the back of a station wagon which drove very slowly down the streets from the church to the cemetery which is quite a distance. Immediately behind the station wagon the immediate family walked. Off to either side, friends of the family walked. Police helped to direct traffic so that the lengthy procession would be undisturbed. In other cases, the casket is carried in front of the procession to the cemetery.
The cemetery has a special place for the burial of children as we do in our country. The handwritten marker is for a child. This particular marker touched me deeply.
My teacher said that the women will gather for nine days after the burial to pray in the home of the deceased or the immediate family member. On the 9th day a mass will be said for the deceased. Prayers will again be said on the 40th day and on the one-year anniversary of the death.
Three times this week I was touched by the simple faith of persons in Antigua. Simple, yet rich examples from persons whose faith runs with the blood of their bodies and sings with their souls.
I sat on a chair as Factor, the gardener, illuminated by the lights behind him in the evening darkness, told me in Spanish that to believe in God is what matters. The smile on his face spoke even more clearly of his faith than his words or gestures.
My teacher and her husband, Janet and Jorge, are consecrating their civil marriage of 6 years in church today. The dressmaker absconded with her simple dress and my teacher discovered that her mother and father had made an earlier promise and would not be able to come. Despite this and more, she spoke of the love of God for her whom she calls 'Daddy'. Her tears of excitement, sorrow and faith spoke more loudly than her words.
An old woman in Mayan dress stood with a young man before the large painting of St. Joachim in the church. It appeared that the woman was moving an unlit candle over the throat and chest of the young man whispering prayers as she did so. The reverence of the young man was a shout of faith in the silent church.
The parable of the Mustard Seed has always been a favorite of mine. Up until now, I have thought of the words "if your faith is the size of the mustard seed then you can say to this mountain....." Size is an American thing. I don't think that God was thinking about size. God was planting people, simple people, among the rest of us and telling them to let their faith shine. Indeed, the mountains are moving.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012