This past week, Atalia and Estuardo got married. They planned the celebration for months. Over the last few weeks, they sampled food, compared frostings and cake, tinkered with dresses until they were “just right”. They purchased candles, scouted for flowers, and searched the web for ideas for their sign-in and photo booths. Their vows were carefully written and re-written until they reflected exactly what they wanted to say.
The celebration was held in the ruins of a church, devastated in an 18th-century earthquake. The classic stone walls surrounded by tall vegetation would become the canvas for their artistic vision.
When the big day arrived, I was privileged to help set up what they planned. Each round table and perfectly-placed chair was covered in antique white fabric. A wide clear vase anchored tree branches from which two small candles hung. Two more candles, flower petals, and gothic-inspired placards completed the table-accents. Over 300 candles lines the walls, their shimmering glow accented by multi-colored waves of incandescence reaching up from hidden floor lamps.
The front was carefully crafted with colonial furniture, flowers, and more candles that somehow managed to portray the flavor of a colonial, home celebration. The accents hid most of the modern lighting and sound equipment that would assure photos and recordings were as perfect as the day.
The bride would arrive in a horse-drawn carriage. Her father would escort her through the wrought iron gates, led by the two-dozen bridal party extras which included her entire family, dressed in brilliant yellow dresses or sharp black suits accented by flowers of off-white and canary.
Everyone who was there will surely remember the wedding of Atalia and Estuardo. But what will be the first thing they think of? The shimmering glow of the candles? The radiant beauty of the bride descending from the carriage? The creative craziness of the photo booth? The awesome food?
In a split-second display of his awesome power, God decided what will be remembered by all.
Minutes before the scheduled start of the celebration, Volcano Fuego erupted and threw an ash cloud over the city. Thankfully, the celebration was completely indoors and nothing was ruined; but certainly the first memory of Atalia and Estuardo’s big day will not be any of their beautifully crafted decorations or wedding events. It will instead be God’s reminder of who is in control of all events.
We had a great night at the wedding and millions of other Central Americans were treated to a special sunset, fine-tuned by God’s creative filter of volcanic ash. Everyone was happy.
A few short hours after the wedding, I climbed into one of several minivans headed to the Lake Atitlan region. I was joined by a couple-of-dozen fellow gringos and the bulk of the Guatemalan workers and translators who would help make their week of missions work easier and more effective. Winding our way out of the city and through the fields and mountains to our destination, I shared the story of the wedding and Fuego’s burp with more than a few.
My job this week was to help coordinate four days of mobile medical clinics. A handful of doctors, nurses and others would travel to two small villages surrounded by coffee fields to address whatever health needs we could with our limited supply of medications and equipment. Along with physical exams and medications, the visitors from Pennsylvania supplied eyeglasses to dozens of villagers; fluoride treatment to hundreds of kids; and shoes to many of the neediest.
We were joined in the villages by members of the group’s children’s ministry. They would lead the children in programs of music, Bible stories and crafts nearby. Several others from both the Guatemalan and Pennsylvania team would pray over and evangelize visitors to the clinic sites.
As I thought about all this, I wondered what God would want us all to remember most about the week. Months of preparation, fund-raising and then the arduous task of entering Guatemala with all their donated supplies and gifts… what would be the most important thing to come out of it all?
In past missions, we’d saved lives by recognizing conditions or ailments that needed intervention. We’ve extended lives by setting up diabetics and hypertension patients with regular care. We’ve improved lives with new houses, safer cooking stoves and water filters, and shoes. We’ve changed lives by bringing people to Christ.
Minutes after the first morning’s prayer service, I got my answer. She was waiting for me in San Lucas Toliman. Little Emily, a child I’ve helped put through school the past few years, smiled widely. I bent over a little and opened my arms as she leapt forward and planted a big kiss on my cheek. “Como va? Todo bien?” I asked. “How’s it going? Everything good?”
And then she hugged me tighter and said, “todo bien, pero todo es major porque tu estas aca!” Everything is good, but it is better now because you are here.
I used to be the worst when it came to being task-driven and impersonal. When I work with mission teams, I would take great joy in setting records for most people seen or for successfully (and effectively) using medications we thought might have to be wasted. And while it is important to be efficient and effective, it is not the most important thing. A big hug and pretty words reminded me of that.
The most important thing is reflecting and spreading God’s love. Emily is someone I spend extra time with on these trips. I need to spend more time like that with others. I need to forget about statistics and semantics. So I was glad we went to smaller villages this week. I was happy to be able to walk out of the clinic and talk to kids. I was thrilled to spend a minute here and there explaining why boys should not hit girls and why school is important and how God wants us to tell the children He loves them. Those moments were the highlight of my week. Our medical work is important, but it is the personal moments- conversations and hugs and smiles- that reflect God’s power and love. This is what the villagers and children will remember after we leave.
Lord knows I have a lot more work to do on this relationships-first, tasks second concept. But for some reason, it is hitting home this year. As Yesenia and I make decisions in the months and years ahead, I hope God reminds us of His priorities whenever we worry about the less-important aspects of what we will do. My prayer is that volcanoes and smiles continue to guide us.
May we all reflect God’s power, love, and glory in everything we do, wherever He puts us.