It may seem scary. To fly out of your home country and ride over four hours on a skinny road that dangles off a cliff with a driver that doesn’t speak the same language as you to a city you’ve never heard of. But our team made it to the top of the small, tribal city Chichicastenango, bouncing through the bumpy hills of Guatemala and riding on faith.
Eager, excited and exhausted our team arrived to “Monte Flor,” the center of Pray America’s campus. Walking up the cobblestone path, passing adobe houses while lugging our massive suitcases, the neighbors greeted us with many “holas.”
What we would learn by the end of the week is the extension of kindness and friendliness that came from the Guatemalan people is woven in their culture. The numerous waves in the streets, hellos and smiles showed a shocking kindness we weren’t used to.
Going into the week, we knew the facts and numbers — we would build four bathrooms, four stoves and two houses. As the week progressed, those numbers evolved into faces, families and stories.
The most incredible part of Pray America’s ministry is quickly assembling houses for widows in the community. But the actual assembly of the house, while physically impressive at glance, is not the story to tell. The ministry has to earn the right to share the Gospel and the house is only a vessel of God’s love.
We stop at the end of the street for our first house build. A small woman, with skin aged by toil and sun greeted us. Timidly, she waved with trembling fingers. I wondered what she thought. I wondered if she was embarrassed or intimidated by our smiles, our bright untouched skin and our peculiar language. Manuela only spoke one of the native languages of Guatemala, Kiche, so all she did was smile back at me when I asked her how she was doing in Spanish. I counted only five teeth, realizing her smile told me a story in itself.
We followed Manuela through a small path that led to her house, colored in towering cornstalks and greens brighter than my eyes had seen. While we built the house, she stood silently inside her kitchen. She was embarrassed. After we had been there for about two hours, she offered us Coke in glass bottles and bagged snacks, something the Pray America staff told us was very expensive. She quickly escaped inside after bringing out the drinks.
After the building of the house was complete, the real work began. We started what we called the dedication of the house. Each family receives a solar powered audio Bible in their native language, a gift basket of household items and key. Before the gift giving, a short story is translated about Zacchaeus.
Manuela brought her family to hear the story. They were just as shy as her, hiding behind each other while meeting us. But during the dedication, as the words “God sees you on this mountain, he knows you and he loves you,” were translated from our Bible story, Manuela grabbed my mom’s hand. We began to all pray together, in two different languages.
On Thursday, we returned to the house to give the family shoes made by Pray America and wash their feet. We read the story about Jesus washing his disciples feet and explained we were not washing their feet because they were dirty, but rather because we love them.
Manuela was first. My mom peeled off her jelly shoe that was hanging on tightly to her small and crooked toes. It was hard to guess how long it’s been since she has had new shoes. Then, Manuela did something unexpected. She began to giggle. Her giggles turned into large, hefty laughs. It occured to me — the foot washing tickled her.
We all started laughing. The family that was once cowering behind their 4’11” matriarch loosened their stances with smiles. Manuela was now glowing, with new purple jelly shoes.
The next day, our teams set out the build bathrooms. The family that Buffy Brown’s group served that day stood in total contrast to Manuela’s family. When Buffy’s group was driving up, the grandmother came running after the truck so she could met them at the bottom of the tall hill that led to her house.
“We lugged our ladders, tools, and equipment to her house and she hugged us all upon arrival,” Buffy Brown said. “She tells us in Kiche through our translator she is so happy to see us. Juana has been waiting two years for a team from Pray America to come to her home.”
“We begin building her bathroom off the side of a cliff with the most magnificent view,” Buffy said. “She sits and watches us with such humble gratefulness while her son-in-law works inside making shoes.”
Buffy and her team said the shoes were beautiful, lined and woven with different of colors and patterns. They wished they could have bought some shoes themselves. The group later learned that the son-in-law now has a huge responsibility, as Jauna’s husband died in Guatemala’s civil war 30 years ago. Juana sobs as she tells the story of losing her husband. But she tells the group, they are not tears of grief, but joy for what Pray America has done for her.
“It was such a powerful moment to be humbly used to show Christ’s love to this war widow and her family. I’ll never forget her running, and her perseverance in waiting, and her sweet grateful love and her strength in sharing. The message of hope we could share with her through building something as simple as a bathroom,” Buffy Brown said. “We could remind her, yes, God sees you, yes He loves you, and no you are not forgotten.”
By the end of the week, our jobs were more than numbers and a to-do list. The act of building the houses and bathrooms was a doorway into these families hearts and lives that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Reflecting on the week it is easy to say two houses were built. Four stoves and four bathrooms were installed. But the real work done was God softened and opened the hearts of 10 families this week so they could hear the Gospel.
by: Maggie Brown