When I was 21 years old I had one of those “once in a lifetime” adventures wherein I was part of a group of people that delivered a donated school bus from Lafayette, Colorado to Guatemala City, Guatemala. We also caravanned with another family that was going to live and work in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Three of my childhood friends and I had taken our commercial driver’s test to get our instructional permits. We then proceeded to drive the length of Mexico for seven days under the tutelage of our friend and mentor, Joe Hart. Needless to say, it was excellent on the job training.
One of our family sayings comes from that time of training when I was approaching an intersection in central Mexico. The light turned yellow and I hesitated, wondering if I should try to stop the ancient 1968 International bus, or just go on through. When I asked Joe what I should do, he said dryly, “Just drive the bus.” To this day I still wonder what he meant.
The journey was full of adventure. For example, in oven-hot Texas we discovered that the old bus suffered from “vapor lock” which is where the fuel vaporizes in the line before it can get to the engine, causing the engine to stall and die. The solution was simple, and set the do-what-it-takes tone for the rest of our bus driving. We removed the two clam shell hoods from the engine and stowed them in the back of the bus, which increased airflow to cool the engine just enough to avoid vapor lock. We were quite a sight, with some people sprawling on the tons of cargo filling the back of the bus, all the windows open, music blaring, and a bare engine.
The group on the bus was made up of one family and a bunch of single young people who were along for the adventure, to see what things God would do as we relied on His leading for the details. The group was organized by the Hart family, consisting of Joe, his wife Kathy, author of the must-read tale entitled “The Dishes”, and their four children ranging from 3 year old Ben to 15 year old Greta.
Greta, and her 16 year old friend Catherine, were lovely young women, and my friends and I felt a brotherly protectiveness over them, especially since it seemed like at every stop some Mexican man would literally get on his knees to beg for one of their hands in marriage.
None of us, except for the Hart family, had ever seen poverty up close. While the mostly simple dwellings of Mexico and Guatemala were a stark contrast to our own affluent Boulder, Colorado, we could never have imagined what we were to see in Guatemala City. There we visited an entire neighborhood built right on top of the city landfill. The smell was overwhelming, though I suppose the inhabitants must get used to it. I can still remember the smell as I type this more than 30 years later. We visited some of the homes where extended families lived together, cooking, cleaning, sleeping, relaxing, kids playing, all in the midst of that pungent odor. We were also surprised to find televisions in each house, playing American soap operas nonstop. The families made their living by scavenging through the endless stream of garbage for anything useful.
Catherine was profoundly affected by the poverty. It disturbed her, and she was incredulous that these people could still have the joy of the Lord in the midst of it. Slowly God was showing her that wealth does not consist of things. Meanwhile Greta, as the oldest “missionary kid” of the Hart family, was doing her own wrestling with God over His rapid and drastic changes to her family life. But God knew this and had a huge expression of His love in mind for both girls.
One Sunday in Guatemala City we attended a large church that was packed with people. Typical to Latin American churches, the worship service was loud and exuberant. But it was also profoundly sweet. Even though we couldn’t keep up with and comprehend the rapid Spanish, the Holy Spirit was tangibly present for all of us.
What happened next required some careful research on my part to get the facts straight because God used different aspects of the event for each of us. I remember sitting in the pew to the right of Greta. She was next to Catherine, who was next to, or near to, Kathy. During the worship, Kathy remembers a woman in front of us loudly proclaiming the mighty deeds of God in her life.
Suddenly, in a lull between songs, the woman turned around to address Catherine and Greta. With a beaming, motherly face, she spoke several sentences to the girls. I saw her turn, heard a few words, and didn’t think anything of it. She wasn’t talking to me, so I tuned her out.
Greta said she remembered the woman saying something like “God bless you,” as an encouragement. But Catherine told me how the woman worshiped God, giving thanks for all His blessings on her, in the midst of and in spite of her physical poverty. God used this woman to directly address Catherine’s struggles, and to open her eyes to better see what really matters in life. Then the woman went on to praise God for bringing us to their community. Catherine remembers this clearly because the woman spoke to her clearly, in English. Greta remembers her simple, English words. Kathy remembers the woman’s worship, because it was in English. I too remember that the woman spoke perfect, unaccented English.
After the service was over, we sought out the woman to talk more. But to our astonishment, she could neither speak nor understand English! We can say (in paraphrase), along with the awestruck people in Acts 2:11, “we hear her in our own tongue speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”
Original 1988 snapshot of Antigua, Guatemala provided by: Thaine Norris