Thursday, May 26, 2011

Learning Together

“Who is my Neighbor?”

Service and Learning Together in Guatemala 2011 - Jim Epp Rosthern Junior College

It began with a robbery. A traveler, in a foreign country, was accosted by bandits who took all he had and left him alone on the side of the road. This is how Jesus begins his well-known parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37 in answer to the question “who is my neighbor?”

The parallels are unavoidable. RJC has traveled to Guatemala for the past number of years to enjoy a cross-cultural experience, partner in service with MCC and local communities, learn and discover who our neighbors are. This year, the RJC group of 13 students and adults left March 20 with the same expectations. Two days later we were robbed at gunpoint by two men who demanded “dollars” and “cameras”. We were all in the MCC Microbus at an Esso gas station in Guatemala City fueling up for our first out trip to El Salvador. We had only traveled for 10 minutes when “the incident” occurred.

The robbery took less than two minutes. While it occurred the group remained calm and composed. Immediately afterward we sat in our van and wondered “what now”? as we waited for the police. Their investigation was brief, to say the least, and soon we were on our way to the MCC Guatemala offices. This is where our real learning began. We were met at the gate by Antony Sanchez Solano, who with his wife Irma directs MCC in Guatemala and El Salvador. All of the other MCC staff available had been called in. A space was all ready for us to gather. We were surrounded by concern, warmth and friendship. We were all given time to share thoughts and feelings with each other. MCC made phones available to all so calls could be made home to explain, find support and plan next steps. Adrianna Koehn, our MCC contact and traveling companion was a constant support. We were surrounded by the “good Samaritans” Jesus spoke of.

The whole RJC group felt strongly they wanted to continue their trip. All the parents at home supported this decision. As a result, new plans were made to move forward. The next day was to be spent at the Canadian Embassy replacing the lone passport that had been taken. While eating breakfast Mario, our driver, joined us, fully expecting that we would be leaving. We were shocked! Mario is a 66 year old retired church member who occasionally serves as an MCC driver. He was the one in our group who had been threatened with the gun. Yet, here he was ready to drive us again the next day! We asked him why he had returned and he replied, “I am a man of peace and faith. I choose not to let the violence of this world decide my life for me. I am here to be with my new Canadian friends.” Jesus spoke of Mario when he told of the Good Samaritan!

For the remainder of our trip we continued to encounter many who embodied God’s love to us through their hospitality, generosity and friendship. We were hosted in Carranza by Meme and Julietta where we were invited into many homes to see first hand the lives of Guatemalan people.

We were welcomed in La Linea, El Salvador, by Bernada, the matriarch of the community and church who proudly showed us the “promised land”, a large tract of land her community was hoping to buy so they could move from the slum they were forced to live in as refugees since the 1980’s. We were joined by Sylvia and Israel, two youth from La Linea, who became our traveling companions and friends for the remainder of our trip.

We were welcomed into the homes of the people of Tonina who hosted us as we worked together on a community project led by Juan Pablo and the farmer’s cooperative. Time and time again we encountered “good Samaritans” as we were gifted with friendship, acceptance and love.

We were fed wonderful food and saw spectacular sights. We enjoyed many new and unique experiences such as bartering in the Antigua market, swimming in the Fuentes Georginas hot springs and standing above the clouds in the Guatemalan mountains. Most significant of all for us was the Parable of the Good Samaritan alive in our trip. What could have been a demoralizing and devastating experience was turned into one of richness because of the wonderful people who became neighbors to us.


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