Guatemala: Day One

Today was a day with about as much stimulation as seems possible. It began with a zesty, engaging lecture at 7:30 a.m., when most of us had had about five to six hours of sleep. Our lecturer was Hector Casteneda, who spoke powerfully for an hour about five key dates in Guatemalan history: 1492 (the arrival of conquistadors and Catholicism to this part of the world); 1821 (Guatemalan independence from Spain); 1871 (takeover of government control by Mestizos (mixed race Amerindian/Spaniards); 1944-1954 (a period of prosperity and development that ended with a U.S. backed coup); and 1996 (the end of a 36-year, brutal civil war). Casteneda also introduced SSTTers to the concept of Latin American liberation theologies, which we will discuss further in future sessions.

Following that early morning lecture, we had breakfast and then a brief orientation by CASAS/SEMILLA’s Vicky Montenegro and Andrea, then took our first group photos with the entire SSTT group and leaders present. Then Vicky and Andrea took us all to a local mall so we could exchange dollars for quetzales, and we returned for lunch.

At the beginning of our four-hour afternoon session, which lasted from 2 to 6 p.m., we were welcomed by SEMILLA rector/president Willi Hugo Perez. Then pastor and professor Gilberto Flores Campos led us in our first lectures, group discussions and readings on “Jesus and Vocation in the Contemporary Context.” Though the afternoon was long, especially following a short night of sleep after a day of travel, students were impressively attentive and engaged throughout, asking good questions, actively listening, and making their own observations about the reading.

Following the formal study session, we had dinner and then an hour of group processing, which involved reflections on our insights and learnings and emotions of the day. Some students are now rehearsing for tomorrow morning’s devotions and tomorrow evening’s group worship, watching the NBA playoffs, playing ping pong, or chatting in the hallways.

We continue to be thrilled with this particular group of students, who have bonded far beyond our expectations, engaged with incredible passion and interest, lived authentically and honestly and graciously with each other, and gone with the flow in a manner rarely seen. We feel honored to be facilitating this group of young scholars, and look forward to the next two weeks learning to know better these stellar young people and our generous Guatemalan hosts.