Unpredictable paths…

Unpredictable paths…

“History unfolds itself by strange and unpredictable paths. We have little control over the future; and none at all over the past.”  Winston Churchill

This week, I’m visiting Quetzaltenango (commonly known as Xela), Guatemala, speaking to English-speaking Middle and High School students at the Inter-American School’s Spiritual Emphasis Week.  The Inter-American School is a private, Christian-based, English-speaking school.  But, the students (mostly Guatemalan) come from a variety of spiritual and non-spiritual backgrounds.  This week, I get to tell them about Jesus!

The reason I’m this year’s Spiritual Emphasis Week speaker is, my daughter, Malinda (Miss Rains, to her students), is the IAS art teacher.  And, I’ve never been good at saying “no” to my daughter!  Actually, I wouldn’t have said “no,” anyway!

As I was about to speak to the students, this morning, a thought crossed my mind…

“How the heck did I end up here???”

How did a 50-year-old gringo end up telling a bunch of Guatemalan kids about Jesus?

To many who know me, the answer might seem obvious…

  • My daughter works and lives in Guatemala.
  • My daughter works and lives in Guatemala, because she went on a mission trip to Guatemala, with her mother and me, when she was in high school.
  • We were on a mission trip to Guatemala, because I’ve been leading mission teams to Guatemala for years.
  • I’ve led mission trips to Guatemala, because I met a missionary, working in Guatemala, in 2007.
  • I met a missionary in Guatemala, because I was a campus minister at Florida State University, looking for a place for my students to serve internationally.
  • I was looking for a place for my students to serve, because I was impacted by a mission trip to Mira Flores, Mexico, when I was 22-years-old.
  • I went on a mission trip to Mexico, because I was (unexpectedly) the new Youth Director at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando, and the trip was already planned.
  • I was (unexpectedly) the new Youth Director, because I had just (VERY UNEXPECTEDLY!) felt like God might be calling me to become a pastor, and the Youth Director position became (unexpectedly) vacant at the same time.
  • Before that, I had recently begun attending FUMC Orlando, AND LOVING IT.  Before that, I had recently graduated from college.  Before that… well, lots of things happened!

Looking backward, of course I ended up here, this week, doing this.  But, if you told me, when I was in school, that some day I’d be visiting my adult daughter, in Guatemala,  telling Guatemalan kids about Jesus, I’d have laughed.  I didn’t know much about Jesus, and I couldn’t have found Guatemala on a map!  My family didn’t go to church, nor did we travel internationally.  I studied German in High School, because I couldn’t imagine ever needing to speak Spanish (even if I never came to Guatemala, living in Florida, Spanish would have been a LOT more useful than German!)

How, on earth, did I end up here, now?

The truth is, even if you’re never invited to speak to kids in Guatemala about Jesus, most of us end up in different places, doing different things than we ever would have imagined.  We set goals.  We make plans.  We have dreams.  But, life usually has unexpected twists and turns, altering the course of our paths in surprising ways.

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9)

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”  (Psalm 37:23-24)

“This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.'”  (Isaiah 48:17)

How did I get here?  It’s God’s fault… or blessing!  I choose to believe the latter.  And, I speaking of choice, I believe our choices also have a lot to do with where we end up.  In fact, I increasingly believe that every choice we make – every step we choose on our journeys (including choices ignorantly chosen) – have a lot to do with what steps will follow.

So, that’s how I ended up, sitting in my daughter’s classroom, this morning, and I’m so thankful!  I never would’ve predicted it, but I’m so thankful for it!  And, I can’t help but wonder what this moment of my journey will lead to next!

So, where are you this morning, what are you doing, and how did you get there?

And, I wonder, what’s next for you?

 

Utz a patik

Utz a patik

I received a Facebook message this week from my friend, Francisco, who is Mayan and lives in a small mountain village in Guatemala, called Chontala.  Yes – they have Facebook.

Chontala is a second home for me.  Actually, maybe, in many ways, Chontala is home for me.  I’ve been going there for about ten years, and have been many, many times.  At one point, I was visiting about three to four times a year.  I used to leave some of my belongings in Chontala, as I was traveling back and forth so frequently.

The people in Chontala are my friends.  They are my extended family.  I love them deeply.  It’s been a year since I was last in Chontala.  I miss everyone there terribly, and it breaks my heart to have been away for so long.

My friend, Francisco, is a bit younger than me.  He’s married, and has several smaller children. He is a subsistence farmer, and is very poor.  He actively attends the Methodist church.

Francisco’s message to me was not well written, as he is not well educated.  It was written both in Spanish and in the Mayan language Quiche.  I know a little of both, but not a lot of either.  He opened by saying, “This is Francisco.  I have not seen you in a long time.  I am Estella’s brother.”  Francisco, my friend, was reminding me who he is, in case I’ve forgotten over the last year.  I definitely have not forgotten him!

We exchanged a few lines, back and forth, thanks to my limited knowledge of Spanish and Quiche, and a little help from Google Translate.  His last message was, “My family misses you a lot. Also, the brothers of the church greet all of your family.  We wait for you with open arms.”

“We wait for you with open arms.”  I wept when I read it.  I’m weeping now, as I type it.  I could use those open arms right now.

The Quiche expression for welcome is “utz a patik.”

So, I’m feeling a little home-sick for Chontala this week.  Chontala isn’t exactly a convenient place to go to.  Finding time to go has been a challenge.  I used to take mission teams, but haven’t found a way to do that recently, and don’t know when I’ll be able to do that again.

So, I’m feeling kind of sad, and homesick. Estoy triste y nostálgico.  And, it breaks my heart that anyone there might think I’ve forgotten them.  I’ve not forgotten Chontala or anyone who lives there.  They are on my mind, and in my heart, every day.

But, in my sadness, I’m also deeply grateful.  I’m grateful for Chontala and the people who live there.  I am grateful for their love and friendship.  I am grateful for all that I have learned and experienced there.  I am grateful for who I have become because of that place.  I’m grateful, knowing that I will return, somehow.  And, it is so good to know that there is a place in this world where, “We wait for you with open arms.”  It is a blessing to loved, wanted, and missed by people who are so dear to me.

And, I know it is not the only place where I am loved and welcome.  For that, too, I am grateful.

Extraño a todos en Chontala. Espero volver a ti pronto.  Katuah.