So right now, there is a group of 4 people from Incarnation in Chontala and I can't help but think about my trip there last year, and wonder about what they are experiencing. It was an incredible experience to be there. I remember spending the first few days in Guatemala city leaning about the history of the country - learning about the civil war and the violence ( "La Violencia") that had taken place there over the last 40 years or so. I was shocked and moved to tears by so many of the stories - and appalled to learn about our country's involvement in much of it. Our guides teased me, because I joked about hearing about "guerilla" warfare in Guatemala as a kid - and saying how I wondered about all those "monkeys" fighting in the jungles.... and why we really cared? Now I'm sad about how little I realized and about what was really going on.
We spent several days in the Mayan Village of Chontala. This is the heart of where Incarnation's partnership is - with a group of women who formed a Co-op with the help of a Methodist Pastor. All of these women became widows during the violence. Eileen, Diane and I stayed with Maria and her family. One night Maria told us her story. Her husband had been ordered to show up for civil patrol duty. The government was using these civil patrols to go into neighboring villages and kill other Native mayan people to help keep insurgents from "rising up". He refused to report for duty. The next day, he didn't come home from the fields at his usual time. Maria (who had two children, and was 7 months pregnant with her third child) went looking for him. She found him with his br0ther-in-law and a cousin in the fields. All three men had been mutilated with a machete. Maria's husband was still alive, but missing the back of his head and she knew there was nothing she could do for him, so she sat with him, praying and singing until he died. This was their punishment for refusing to show up for civil patrol duty. She and her children fled into the mountains. In the next few days the village was invaded. Several people in the village were locked in the area churches and the churches were bombed. Men were killed in front of their wives and children - things were horrific. Many of the wives and the children that survived fled into the mountains. After some time they returned, but had no way of supporting their families. They went to this local Pastor, Pastor Diego, who helped them get a grant for some thread, and helped them turn some of their weavings into artwork, bags, and shirts, and helped them sell them. This then formed their co-op, and has thus sustained them. The co-op now also works to help educate some of the village children, gives micro-loans to other small businesses and works to sell the womans weavings. It's pretty amazing to see how they have persevered.
And through it all their faith carries them through. That humbled me. They had very little, and they shared it all with us - unbelieveable. Here were people that should hate me, after all America was a big part of the problem in their civil war. It seemed to me like it would be hard to not be bitter, but they weren't. We slept in their only bed (fleas and all....), were given their best food and were treated like royalty. Their faith is strong and unwavering, in spite of their hardships - it gets them through each and every day. It is inspiring. I hope the crew there now is having an equally inspiring time.