Day Three: Experiencing Contrasts

We began this morning with more conversation about Jesus and vocation, then took a tour of contrasting Guatemalan realities this afternoon. It’s also Talia’s 18th birthday (woot! woot!) and we’ll be celebrating that later this evening. We also experienced, during the night, an earthquake that registered 6.9 at the epicenter, which was several hours from Guatemala City, where we are staying. The earthquake woke up some of us when our beds began shaking and lurching, and those still awake felt the floors move and the windows rattle. But all was well at the seminary, and in Guatemala City. We’re still learning what damage there may have been nearer the epicenter.

Pastor/Professor Flores, in his morning sessions about Jesus and vocation, talked about the “worm (gusano) of life,” the lifelong process of experiencing, discerning, judging/evaluating (using the Bible) and transformation/acting, which is also referred to as “praxis” in Latin American liberation theologies. He said, “Some people are afraid of exposure to the world, but exposure to the world is good. The world is the place where God is at work; there is no other place for the church to be.”

Also very significant in the morning were meetings two Study-Service Theology Term scholars had with their Guatemalan families. Mary, who was adopted from Guatemala as an infant, met her birth mother for the second time, accompanied by Gloria and also Vicky from CASAS. Yeysi, who was born to Guatemalan parents in the U.S., had never met his father’s parents or his aunts and uncle on that side of the family, but they all made the eight-hour trek to Guatemala City to meet him and take him out for lunch. Both meetings with Guatemalan family members were emotional, and the students have been sharing with their peers the impact of these encounters.

After lunch, Goshen College Study-Service Term Director Tom Meyers and Interim Academic Dean Jo-Ann Brant arrived for a several-day visit. Both Tom and Jo-Ann have involvements with the Study-Service Theology Term, so they came to see what is unfolding for us in Guatemala.

In the afternoon, we experienced great contrasts by going to a cemetery and landfill overlook. Some of the mausoleums in the cemetery were incredibly opulent, owned by the most wealthy families in Guatemala. The cemetery sits on the edge of a massive landfill, where about 4,000 Guatemalans earn their living by searching through freshly dumped trash for items to eat and gather to sell. As we looked into the landfill, people were rummaging through piles of trash that were being dumped every minute. Most foreboding, perhaps, were the vultures sitting in a tree near us, waiting to swoop in for a meal. We also watched a video titled “Recycled Life,” which is also available on youtube at

Following the cemetery and landfill overlook, we went to the excessively pristine Cayala Mall, a walking mall for tourists and Guatemala’s wealthiest population. The family that built and owns the mall also built the opulent mausoleum we had seen in the cemetery. We were each given 10 quetzales, which is about 40 percent of the average daily wage of rural Guatemalans, and told to see what we could purchase. Some students were able to buy a piece of candy; others purchased iced tea; others bought a cappuccino, but only after supplementing that with another 9 quetzales.

After returning to the seminary around 4:00, we had orientation for our three-day field trip, which begins tomorrow morning, and for the last hour and a half we have had quiet, reflective time to write our journal entries for the day. We’re looking forward to this evening’s group response time, our party for Talia’s birthday, and possibly a theological discussion. Thanks for joining us on the journey.