Every single day, we wake up to the latest news in Guatemala. “Three people wounded in gun battle.” “Remains of two young girls who were murdered discovered in Zone 6.” “Millions of dollars swindled by president and vice president.” Even though these aren’t actual headlines, these are actual things that have happened.
A Narrative of Violence and Brokenness
People are wounded and killed in gunshot battles every single day. Violence is rampant. The former president and vice president are currently in jail for stealing millions of dollars in what should have been taxes to help sustain and develop Guatemala.
The stories aren’t just stories though. A friend who is helping us renovate the space where our church meets came up to me the other day and said this: “I’m not going to be able to work on Wednesday. We have to go to my niece’s funeral. They found her in a bag on the street cut up into six pieces.”
I wish I could say I was making this up. Sadly, it is all true. And truer still are the feelings of hopelessness that come with such broken narratives. Though my wife and I live relatively protected from these stories, they are all around us. Every person we come in contact with has been affected by these narratives of brokenness. Every neighborhood in Guatemala whispers the words “thy Kingdom come.”
The False Hope of Prosperity
Interestingly, 40-50 percent of Guatemala’s population professes to be evangelical. Clearly, religion offers a sense of hope that is desperately needed. Yet, tragically, these broken stories aren’t merely rehearsed outside the walls of the church. Guatemala is known as having one of the highest concentrations of churches that proclaim the prosperity gospel. Guatemala is one of the top 10 countries with the most megachurches. Most of these megachurches preach the prosperity gospel.
The prosperity gospel, as preached in Guatemala, is a mixed bag of mysticism, Santa Claus, syncretism and just flat out blasphemy. Preachers, every Sunday, stand up on their stages, telling the Guatemalan population (75 percent of whom live below the poverty line, including 58 percent who live below the extreme poverty line) that if they will just sacrifice a bit more and give to the cause of these churches, then God will finally “open the storehouses of heaven” and will bless them financially and physically. If only you will obey the pastor, obey God and do all the right things, then God will bless you.
The pastor then tells you to obey the leader and to get involved in a variety of different programs at the church. Before long, you are running on the hamster wheel with the cheese just out of reach. It takes many years, if not decades, to discover that it is all a lie.
Every week, we hear appalling stories of pastors abusing their power to get foot massages from women in the church, calling people at all hours of the night to change their flat tires, banning anyone who confronts them, publicly humiliating those who don’t give. Pastors paste lists on the church walls of those who are “behind on their tithing.” Pastors ask members how much they earned, calculating for each of them how much their tithe should be.
And, these too, are not merely stories.
The True Hope of Christ
In July of 2015, we planted Iglesia Reforma (Church of the Reform), desiring to increase true gospel ministry in Guatemala. Every week, we are flooded with these stories. People who are just a few short steps away from leaving the church and this whole Jesus thing entirely. Broken people living in a broken country, attending broken churches led by broken pastors, preaching to them a broken message.
Guatemala desperately needs hope. It doesn’t need any more cheap hope offered by foreign hands or greedy hands or even evangelical hands. Guatemala needs the kind of hope that can only be offered by pierced hands. Hands that have been pierced on behalf of the violence, on behalf of the corruption, on behalf of the lies and manipulation and greed that plague every alley of Guatemala. Hands that pay the penalty for all that wrong so that those of us who are broken may come and be healed.
Guatemala needs the hope of the true gospel, that in Christ, all things will be united in heaven and on earth. In Christ, there is redemption. In Christ, there is freedom. In Christ, there is reconciliation and restoration. In Christ, there is justice and mercy.
Until Christ returns, we find ourselves ministering in the midst of the contrast, praying to God the very thing that the streets of Guatemala long for: thy Kingdom Come.
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