When I arrived in Guatemala, I felt prepared. Having visited in 2015, I thought I was ready for all I would experience. I had already seen the dump, the cemetery, and the homes clinging to the sides of ravines. I had heard difficult stories and seen the hope of the church in action. Yet, I was eager. I was eager to take my broad knowledge and make it specific. I was anxious to not only learn about what Pastor Hector and Monte Alto are doing for the community, but to build relationships and somehow encourage them in their efforts.
In Guatemala, despite my so-called knowledge of the city and its struggles, my world was rocked as I learned about the gang culture of Zone 18. I was shocked to learn that 5,000 gang members rule an area of 800,000 people. Horror set in when I learned about how the gangs extort businesses, recruit or take children from families, and murder anyone who steps out of line. Adults and children of Zone 18 feel they have no choice but to comply or even join the gangs–a sickening and heartbreaking reality.
Still, as disgusted as I was, seeing the darkness only made the light of Monte Alto shine brighter. Pastor Hector, Araceli, and the church members are going against the grain. They are reaching out to their community to make a difference. They are praying hard every day for change, and they are taking action to make that change. The gangs of the area respect the pastors, leaving the churches alone–including Monte Alto–because they know they are doing good work for the community. If that is not God’s hand of protection, what is?
While in Guatemala, I witnessed darkness and light colliding together in a deeply moving way. On Monday night, after touring the city, seeing the dump, and learning about the dire situation in Zone 18, the team and I attended a prayer service at the church. We arrived heavy-hearted from all that we had seen and heard. We were also exhausted from our long day and felt uncertain about what the coming hour would hold for us.
The service began at 7 pm with nearly the entire congregation gathering in plastic chairs lined up in the one room church building. Three girls immediately joined me in the back row, vying for my attention. For the rest of the evening, I tried to keep them entertained by making faces, clapping hands with them, and playing quietly, while still trying to stay focused on the prayer time.
The service was a cacophony of noise as members of the church stepped onto the concrete stage, picked up the microphone, and wailed loud prayers and pleadings to God. A man played on the keyboard and sang seemingly random phrases of praise. Every member of the congregation was standing with arms raised, muttering agreements and prayers, while tears streamed down their faces. The emotionally-heavy experience had the added weight of mystery, as the Spanish words were unfamiliar.
Yet, through the chaos, there was an understanding. We did not need to understand the words being prayed; we could sense the brokenness of the hearts that prayed them. Perhaps they were hurting for their families and for their community. Maybe they were grieving the loss of husbands to gang violence or drugs. I imagine they were begging in desperation for better lives for their children, and revival for their community. desperate for change and hungry for revival.
Though we did not know the words being spoken, the understanding given by the Holy Spirit brought a beautiful unity. As the people of Monte Alto cried out with words, we joined their intercession. Corinne put her arm around a crying woman, standing by her side as she prayed. Liz and Charlotte knelt on the floor with the pastor’s wife. Nancy played with a baby sitting near her. I held the little girls around me close, praying for God to give them a future and a hope.
That night, neither the language barrier nor the spiritual darkness of the area could stop us. The Lord was at work. He was listening to the cries of His people and uniting His body for action. The Crossing Church and Monte Alto became a family that night–a family ready to fight injustice, meet needs, and bring the light of the Gospel to the darkest of places.
This is the spirit of Church Partnership–a complementary relationship between two churches guided by a common vision and sustained by an equal willingness to learn, to serve, to grow, and to extend grace to one another under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Through Church Partnership, churches pray together, weep together, celebrate victories together, and join forces to strengthen families and care for orphaned and vulnerable children. In the face of cultural differences and language barriers, the unity of the Body of Christ is captivating.