Happy Thanksgiving from the town of Rivaco, Guatemala
Write to the Point
Thursday is Thanksgiving and between now and then we will be told via a variety of media and by any number of individuals why and for what we have to be thankful. In many cases they will be correct.
I’m not going to be one of them. Instead, I thought maybe I’d tell you of the things I am thankful for.
To do that, I’m going to tell a story. Some of you know I go on mission trips to Guatemala in the summers. This is a story I heard firsthand from my trip in 2013.
It’s about a town named Rivaco and a man named Jacinto. Rivaco is hard to find on most maps, but then so are many towns and cities in Guatemala. It’s located north of Guatemala City in the Baja Verapaz Mountains.
Jacinto lives in Rivaco. He is Pocomchi, one of 23 indigenous Mayan groups in the country. The Pocomchi are being reached out to on a mission-basis by the Q’eqchi Maya, who live east of them in the Polochic River Valley and Alta Verapaz Mountains.
I’m Presbyterian, and my presbytery has a relationship with the Q’eqchi, which is how I met Jacinto this past summer. Jacinto used to be Catholic, but several years ago switched, along with his family, to Presbyterianism and founded a church in Rivaco.
Others joined and the new church grew, which caused problems. It is the first denomination other than Catholicism to spring up in Rivaco, and has met with fierce opposition making life difficult for Jacinto and other members.
They endure angry confrontations and threats at their homes, at the market and in the town council of which Jacinto is a member. People sometimes walk by during services and yell obscenities at them from the street.
One woman was so terrified she recanted and returned to the other denomination. Five families remain with the new church, however.
Enter one of the local hydroelectric companies, which about a year ago, built a power station on a nearby river that cut off water to several Pocomchi towns and villages – water relied upon for their daily, meager existence. Adding insult to physical injury, the company didn’t bother compensating the communities in any way.
Other projects have since surfaced, forcing about 50 Pocomchi communities to band together in opposition. Rivaco erected a heavy chain across the road at the western entrance to town with local men manning the guard point ready to turn back hydroelectric company vehicles and employees.
But the damage was done, hardship created. The major religious denomination in Rivaco began circulating rumors the new Presbyterian Church being built by Jacinto and his congregation was being funded by hydroelectric company money.
One night last July, that rumor morphed into an angry mob that marched on the not-yet completed church, intent on tearing it down. Jacinto came outside – alone – to try to reason with them, to get them to understand they had nothing to do with the hydroelectric company, were not taking money, and were just as impacted by what had happened as the rest of Rivaco.
The mob would not listen, so Jacinto said if they must tear the building down, then do so. A church is more than a building, he told them.
This must have sobered them up because in the end, they backed down and we were able to see the nearly finished church when we arrived in Rivaco several weeks later.
There are many things I am thankful for: family, friends, health, employment, a home and the ability and resources to at least lead a relatively non-demanding life, if not better myself and my position. Nobody has threatened me physically or verbally at work, in the community, on my way to work or even in the safety of my home.
Nobody has accosted me because of my religion or sought to destroy where I worship. Sure, I can’t go to some public places or businesses and see religious-themed displays this holiday season, but so what. Not being able to do so is a far, far, far, far cry from being persecuted the way Jacinto and his congregation has for building a simple church upon a small hill.
We are lucky, most of us here in the good old U.S.A., be thankful for that. Don’t let others who have their own agendas scare you into thinking we’re not, because if they do, I know some people who might want to trade places.