Sitting in the San Francisco International Airport before my flight to Guatemala, I called my best friend and former roommate. In her first few weeks of her own year of post grad service, she shared with me that the theme of her program orientation acknowledged this time of hellos and goodbyes. They understood how strange it is to leave everything known and familiar, friends, family, the comforts of a millennial lifestyle, for everything new and introductory. Tearful goodbyes quickly followed by semi-awkward hellos. This time of hellos and goodbyes, and more specifically life and death, is what I can testify to in my first two weeks in Antigua, Guatemala.
Let me start with a story. Granted this story should actually be written as a book and maybe I’ll write a longer post some other time but here it is: a love story. A young Guatemalan woman is just starting her career as a secretary, living at home with her tight-knit family. Enter a U.S. American Villanova graduate young man with a candy apple in hand, asking for a stroll around Parque Central here in Antigua. Six months later Vincent received a call from God to 1. marry Zulena and 2. start a mission together, caring for poor and abandoned children in rural Guatemala. After seven years of faithful obedience and wildly fruitful service, the couple moves again, this time to Honduras to begin another orphanage. Vincent passes away in a tragic plane crash only six months into the new mission and Zulena is charged with the deciding voice for this new project. A woman with five children, all under the age of 6, decides to carry on a mission of love and care for hundreds of orphaned children over the past 21 years by the grace of God. When I heard the details of this story during our orientation retreat, I was so struck by Zulena’s perseverance. She was a woman who simply planed to live and work in Antigua with a nice Guatemalan family. She wasn’t the wildly adventurous and obedient servant of God to start. How was it that, in the face of such tragic death, such life can spring forth into an incredibly successful and anointed mission? God did not leave Zulena orphaned.
My trip to Volcan Pacaya echoed this dichotomy of life and death. Pacaya is an active volcano about an hour outside of Antigua which had major eruptions in 2010 and 2014, leaving freshly cooled lava on the trail up the volcano. I was constantly amazed by the deep grey ash on which I tread. The rich color was so piercing, such a fierce reminder of the living and disastrous power of nature. Yet growing up from this ash was indescribably lush green vegetation. I was constantly swatting away overgrown branches and vines of every shade of green known to man. Amidst the trees were colorful flowers, buzzing bugs, and dogs which followed us all the way up. How could such life live alongside such fiery destruction? The heat which destroyed and murdered is now home to this dynamic life. I gladly rejoiced that this dynamic life includes just enough heat at the base of the volcano to roast angelitos (marshmallows).
Amidst these experiences, the most striking witness of death and re-birth has been at a funeral last week. I have never in my life been in a place that felt so heavy. The death of a 22-year-old from complications during childbirth filled the church around the corner from my house with people of all ages. As her sister, her parents, her grandmother walked behind the casket, the entire church wept. Yet as the mass ended and the cross-city procession towards the cemetery began, the air changed. It’s so tender how a walk can do that. While maintaining a reverent disposition, people began to talk. A giggle arose every so often. Shop owners and waitresses came out of their businesses to pay their respects. A pair of U.S. American backpackers took off their hats. A chubby toddler licked her fingers filled with cookie crumbs while standing in the doorway of her house, watching the procession go by. The city literally stops, traffic halts, and a casket paves way to healing and unity. Paradise flowers greet her as she enters the cemetery. Thy Kingdom Come.
These moments have each taken me to the foot of the cross in my first two weeks here in Antigua. The cross is the ultimate paradox. What looks like ultimate condemnation, death, and destruction of the Son of God is actually the ultimate triumph, victory, and liberation. The cross is my one true hope. That in the face of death can come the eternal wellspring of life. Because actually there is no goodbye without hello. No death without new life. No suffering without salvation. No crucifixion without the resurrection.
This hope is what Jesus is inviting me into as I prepare to leave for Honduras. I challenge you today to think about how the Lord might be calling you to see the new life He is bringing from death. What have His promises to you been? What is He calling you to hope in? Do you trust that He will transform everything for His glory if you give it to Him? Rejoice and giggle with me that God is one who puts “Behold, I make all things new” in the last book of the Bible (Rev 21:5).
Please pray for me as I am beginning something “new” with Jesus and let me know how I can be praying for you!