Captain’s Blog


Denver Students in the nuns' rooms
From Guatemala View in Google Earth

I took a class through Denver Seminary at SETECA in Guatemala City from June 19 through July 2. It was entitled “Hermeneutics and Contextualization.” It dealt with how the culture we find ourselves in affects the way we read the Bible. Part of the class was experiencing aspects of Guatemalan culture at different levels of society.

Before the Spanish conquered Central America, Guatemala was part of the Mayan culture. When the Spanish came, it was with the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. They read a proclamation (in Spanish) that those who would not bow the knee to Jesus Christ would be destroyed. However, they made it easy for the natives to join the church – they were allowed to bring their Mayan rituals with them (at least some of them – there is debate as to whether human sacrifice was Mayan or whether that was Aztec culture which was on the verge of taking over the Mayans anyway). All they had to do was perform their rituals in the name of Christ.

While South America gained it’s independence from Spain and Portugal by violent revolution, Central America’s independence was gained peacefully. However, local politics turned into tribal warfare, creating the handful of nations, mostly ruled by dictators. In the second half of the 20th century, when the United States was battling communism on a global scale, we supported the local tyrants in Latin America against the various guerrilla groups that were following Marxist ideology against their abusive governments.

In Guatemala, the guerrillas gained support from the indigenous people (the Mayans), not because they were Marxists, but because they wanted protection from the injustices being committed against them by their government. Part of this class was reading the United Nations human rights report on Guatemala, which goes into sickening detail about the atrocities committed against the indigenous people, mostly by the US-backed government. This civil war was not ended until 1996, so it was going on while our professor Dr. Carroll was growing up in that country.

I took a bunch of pictures which are available in the gallery along with short explanations. However, there were places where it was inappropriate to bring a camera (or at least a camera as bulky as mine), so I wanted to mention some additional things here.

  • We went to a restaurant in a 5-star hotel to have coffee and desserts. I don’t drink coffee, but the hot chocolate was terrific, and the desserts were just like you would find at a nice place in the States, only a little cheaper.
  • We visited a church in La Limonada, right next to the ravine. Many of the people living in the ravine are the ones who scavenge at the dump, so these people are quite poor. However, the warmth and kindness was, if anything, magnified by their situation, and they prayed for us (virtual strangers) with a sincerity that was very touching. The pressing question was, “How do you raise the next generation of leaders when the youth coming to the church might have a father in prison and a mother who is a prostitute?” We walked through the cinder block shacks, but were not allowed into the ravine, since gang violence has increased there recently. At a small house (three small rooms), there were some women making tortillas. We asked if we could try and entertained them with our incompetence.
  • We went to a large government-sponsored university that has a theology department and toured the facilities with the head of that department. They had some very new classroom technology donated by the Dutch government including an impressive computer setup for collaborative learning.
  • The first Sunday, we all went to church together. It was very similar to a non-denominational church in the US. The only difference was that the guitar was replaced with a flute and violin, and the language was Spanish. Of course, there was also the natural warmth of the Guatemalan people. The second Sunday, I went to a church with my new-found Bolivian friend Samuel Paco. I think that was a Presbyterian church, and it also seemed quite similar to North American churches. The big difference there was the existence of tambourines played by some of the congregants, making it a bit more lively than a Presbyterian church usually is in the States. All the churches we went to had big sound systems. Dr. Carroll says that Latin Americans like their music loud. Even the poor church in La Limonada had a big sound system for such a small room, complete with overhead projector connected to a laptop.
  • We went to a neo-Pentecostal mid-week service the second Wednesday. Neo-Pentecostal churches basically preach a health and wealth gospel, which is quite a travesty in a country where most of the people are poor and will never see what is promised them.
  • Finally, we ate a full meal at a fancy restaurant the last night we were there. Typical Guatemalan food is not really to my liking. There are black beans at almost every meal including breakfast. Rice, plantains, scrambled eggs, and tortillas make up most of the rest, with a little bit of meat thrown in here and there. At this restaurant, the beans were mixed with rice as usual, but the steak with jalapeno sauce was fabulous, and the Jamaican something-or-other drink was excellent as well.

The biggest thing I took away from Guatemala was the experience of seeing first-hand the syncretism in the Catholic Church. To see people hobbling about on their knees in designated pattern before a crucifix was awful. Even worse was the ceremony at the high place, where the lady was chasing away the evil spirits with a handful of plants, and all three of them were burning an offering of chocolate, a white powder (flour?), candles, and other assorted items in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It seemed straight out of the Old Testament – burning incense on every high place.

Another thing is the whole issue of illegal immigration into the United States. Many of the illegal immigrants in our country came here as they tried to escape abject poverty or wars in their own country. If I were in a similar situation, in the midst of atrocities committed by my own government against its people, and without any way of gaining land or a good job, it would be very tempting to break what is seen as a minor immigration law, especially for the sake of a family. I don’t believe we can sacrifice the rule of law, or our country will soon be no better than what they are fleeing from. However, we certainly need to take seriously the Bible’s injunction to help the foreigner and the alien in our midst. Too much of the immigration debate on both sides is just a bunch of sloganizing and stereotyping.

I have purposely left out most of the actual content of the course. If you want to know what I learned in that respect, you’ll have to ask me.

July 10th, 2010 Posted by | photos, travel | no comments

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