From Abbie in Guatemala

Abbie is currently in Guatemala, representing CMC on a 10 day learning tour with other members of Central District Conference congregations.  Below is a reflection from her.  

I’m thankful for the opportunity to return to Guatemala.  Our time here this summer was so fun for our family and I loved attending Spanish classes and taking weekend and day trips.  But I left wanting to know more about the history of Guatemala, more about the indigenous groups, more about what role Mennonites have played in the country, as well as US involvement.

This tour has helped fill in some of those gaps.  We are learning from some of the leaders of the Mennonite church in Guatemala who experienced the atrocities of the civil war and lived out what it means to be Anabaptist.  We talked with the President of the Mennonite church in Guatemala and visited her church where she and her husband offer classes to children and women in a neighborhood plagued by violence and landslides.  We met with seminary students and pastors who are so grateful to have the free seminary classes.  Most of their churches are poor and unable to pay for continuing education.  Some of the pastors have not even completed their high school education.  Tuesday we drove to the cloud forest of Coban and have been visiting with the indigenous Q’eqchi Mennonites.  We will also have a chance to visit Honduras and El Salvador later in the week.

One of my favorite conversations was with Gilberto Flores.  He is one of the founders of SEMILLA, the Anabaptist seminary in Guatemala City which sends professors throughout Central America.  His story is remarkable because it intersects with two Guatemalan presidents during the civil war, Jorge Serrano Elias and Efrain Rios Montt.  Elias was part of a Bible study Gilberto started which became a Mennonite congregation, Casa Horeb.  Rios Montt visited Casa Horeb and even though he was a general in the army, Gilberto allowed him to attend the church and even baptized him.  Gilberto preached regularly what it meant to be Anabaptist and always at the end of the service, Rios Montt would say “Okay, now what?”  Gilberto would answer, “Stop killing the poor, work for peace.”  During one service Rios Montt laid down on the floor and asked for forgiveness.  Everyone in the church surrounded him and prayed for him.

Eventually, though, Rios Montt was unable to part with the military path that would eventually lead him to become President, so he left the Mennonite church and joined a right wing evangelical church.

When he did become President, he called Gilberto to come talk to him about his plans for Guatemala.  Gilberto told him, “If you produce life for the whole community, we will be behind you all the way.  If you continue to do harm, we will be against you, in private and in public.  You will know if you are doing something wrong, because we will oppose you.”  Gilberto said these things at a time when anyone who opposed the President could be assassinated.  It was a great risk.

Rios Montt came one last time to Casa Horeb, but this time he came with all his military personnel.  Gilberto would not allow him to bring the guns into the church.  He asked the soldiers to leave or give up their weapons to the elders.  Rios Montt did as Gilberto asked and said, “I am a servant, I will do what you ask.”  Again Gilberto told him to stop killing the poor.  Then Rios Montt knelt down and the church prayed for him.

A couple days later, Gilberto was called to the President’s office.  Rios Montt was furious with the way he had been treated.  He yelled at Gilberto and said he didn’t know him and he never wanted to see him again.  Gilberto’s response was, “It is you who has changed, not me.  I have always been the same.”  In 2013 Rios Montt was convicted of genocide of the indigenous people in Guatemala.  Under his leadership 250,000 were brutally killed, others who opposed him disappeared – teachers, professors, poets, journalists.

Still today, Gilberto Flores sees peace, love and community as vital for Christians.  He said to us he hopes one day Anabaptists are like an aspen tree.  All sharing the same root, but covering an entire mountainside.