Saturday, April 25, 2015


Recently, during our nightly devotion, God revealed to us that we were suffering with a chronic but curable condition I named “farsightedness.”  I cannot recall the topic of our devotion that night, but I do remember what was revealed to us.  While living in the states, Ellie and I went about our daily grind like most anyone else would, except we had lost our ability to use our full field of view.

Webster defines farsighted as, “able to see things that are far away more clearly than things that are near.”  Now, before proceeding any further, our physical eyesight has not been compromised lately, but we are referring to our spiritual eyesight and the sight of our hearts. While in Georgia, we ran to Walmart, doctor’s offices, gas stations, and rushed to be on time for work and other important appointments, meanwhile not really paying attention to who may be around us. It is easy to get focused on the task at hand in our busy lives and block out all the “non-essential" things around us in order to accomplish our to-do list for the day.  By living this way, we have closed ourselves off from opportunities for God to use us and we have closed other people off from opportunities to know our Lord and Savior.

Something that has helped us to better understand this truth is moving to Guatemala. Here, we have learned that this culture is more of a relational-based culture versus a task or money-driven culture. In Guatemala, it is very common to have deadlines that are not met, but on the other hand, walking down almost any street and having almost everyone greet you is just as common. This stresses the fact that people here, generally speaking, are more important than what may be on the calendar. If people are this important, then how could we continue to go throughout our days not really caring about or acknowledging those around us?

Looking back, I am saddened at the number of people whom I remember passing on a regular basis and  I could not even stop to learn their name. After learning of this truth and slowing down while running about, it is incredible to see the possibilities to share who God is with others. We write this not to condemn or judge, but to share truth from our lives and what we have learned while being here. We realize that there is a difference between the two cultures and that the streets can not become a big social club seven days week. But being deliberate to make time for a conversation or asking God for the courage to start a conversation with someone new is a start.  We are not trying to make everyone street evangelists, but taking the time to meet and learn the story of the Walmart greeter or post office clerk who you see every week is a good start.  First their name, then maybe their kids’ names, then maybe how you can pray for them.  We are not pros, but have learned that relationships with others in life are far more important than the things we were placing first.

Romans 13:8-10

   Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Holy Week in Guatemala

Happy Spring, Everyone!  More importantly, Happy Easter!  The grave was unable to hold our Lord, and He is alive today!  Not only did He die an indescribably painful death as payment for your and my sins, but three days after His death, He rose from the grave!  What a great God we serve, and what a privilege it is to be His!  I can't help but be passionate about His love for us this weekend, it is such a great reason to celebrate!

And "celebrations" might be an understatement of what goes on here in Guatemala during Cuaresma (Lent) leading up to Semana Santa (Holy Week, including Easter weekend).  In fact, Antigua, Guatemala, the city in which we are currently living, boast of the second largest Holy Week celebration in the world, trailing only behind that of Seville, Spain.  The entire city is decorated in purple banners, while trees all across the city are in full bloom with beautiful violet flowers that seem to be perfectly timed to bloom this week.

Antigua's Central Park packed with people on Palm Sunday

The streets of the city are shut down while business owners and residents construct beautiful "alfombras" or carpets made of colored sawdust, pine needles, flowers, fruits, vegetables and baked goods across the cobblestone.  The colors are gorgeous and intense.The materials create a beautiful colored mosaic that mark the routes of extravagant processions that march through the streets.

Laying sawdust to make a carpet for the procession.

Families work together to create beautiful carpets of sawdust.

A finished carpet that took about seven hours to create awaiting the coming procession.

Unfortunately, amidst all the beauty it seems as though idolatry and all sorts of immorality are more celebrated than the purity and holiness that are key to easter.  You see, Semana Santa, or Easter Week is similar to Spring Break in the states, but on a grander scale.  Almost all business with the exceptions of food and entertainment shut down from Wednesday until Easter Sunday.  People from all over Central America and other parts of the world flock to Antigua to party and take part in Semana Santa.  It is like Spring Break at Panama City Beach, but on steroids, if you know what I mean.  Bars and sidewalks fill up as people wait for the processions to pass along their street.  It is a pickpocket's paradise as they weave through the crowds, some with razors to slice open the bottoms of book bags and remove the contents before the owner's realize what happened.  Crime escalates as people flock to the city.

Meanwhile, the processions take place daily.  Thousands of individuals pay money to the local Roman Catholic churches in order to be a part of the processions.  They are then assigned to solemnly march, carrying enormous floats that depict a scene from the Bible for a certain number of city blocks.  The floats are wooden and carried by usually 80-100 people and can weigh up to three tons.  This act said to absolve individuals of their sins from the past year.  The church keeps their money.

Men carrying a smaller float with Mary several weeks before Easter

The wooden floats are carried on the shoulders of partakers as a payment for sin.

Women carry separate floats, often with a depiction of Mary.

The absurdity of it all blows my mind and saddens me.  Amid all of the beauty, such paganism takes the forefront while Easter is pushed to the background.  For the Christian, what would be the most significant and celebrated holiday is turned into an opportunity to make a buck.  Vendors push their way to set up shop on the front steps, and even inside of churches and cathedrals.  I can't help but picture the story of Jesus overturning tables in the temple each time we pass a church flooded with those selling jewelry, souvenirs, and "holy" trinkets.

Vendors line the entrance of the main cathedral in Antigua to sell merchandise.

Food vendors outside of another major cathedral in Antigua.

Vendors selling toys, balloons, and snacks follow closely behind the end of each procession.

Mark 11:15-17
And they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And He was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

I feel as if there are so many better ways to represent Jesus' life than a crushing weight on the shoulders of His followers. Somehow this image just doesn't sit well with me:

You see, I believe there is freedom in following Jesus.  Rather than placing burdens on us, we are now able to bring our burdens to the foot of the cross and leave them there.    Jesus has already paid for our sins through His death on the cross followed by His defeat of death three days later!  There is no need to carry them with us (for any number of city blocks) or pay to have them absolved.  The belief that there is any other way to rid one's self of sins simply belittles Christ's death on the cross.

Romans 8:1-4
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

I also do not want to write this article condemning the culture or art that surrounds me.  I realize that there are many ways to worship our God.  I also realize that there are similar distractions and idols from the culture I come from.  While one culture might party and parade images pushing the envelope of being idols through the streets, I have spent many past Easters eating marshmallow peeps, planning big meals, and worrying more about Easter eggs and the Easter bunny than worshipping Christ's resurrection.  Neither culture is wrong until Christ's death and resurrection are pushed to the background of the holiday celebrations.  We look forward to learning more about why people do the things they do here in Guatemala, and the reasoning behind ancient traditions.

This Easter, I pray that you will keep Christ's death and resurrection the highlight of your weekend, and in doing so that God's name would be glorified.

To Him be the Glory,
James, Ellie, and Riley

1 Peter 1:3-4
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, tan inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you..."

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