Silent Night: A Guatemalan Christmas Story

The familiar story of Christ’s birth isn’t so familiar in Guatemala — even for those raised in church.
TEAM missionary Joe Dorris learned that the familiar story of Christ’s birth isn’t so familiar in Guatemala — even for those raised in church.

It was a cozy December night in 2017. Outside the apartment window, a resounding chorus of stray dogs and feral cats raised their voices in inharmonious unity. Inside, the cheerful sounds of laughter and hearty conversation combined with the warm smell of Guatemalan tamales and sweet ponche drink to bring about the cozy feeling that is known as Christmastime.

“Ok everyone,” I announced. “To the living room. Study time.”

The roughly ten guys rose sloth-like from the dinner table and migrated their full stomachs towards living room, where the sofa and chairs hungrily awaited, ready to swallow them whole. I wondered for the millionth time if it would be better if we did Bible study before dinner.

“Ok,” I began. “Who here has read the story of Christ’s birth?”

Several pairs of blank eyes stared back at me in total silence. The animals outside seemed to also have gone quiet. My gaze jumped from face to face, searching for any sign of brain activity.

“Umm,” said Pablo. Everyone rapid-focused on him, hoping for someone to break the terribly awkward start to Bible study. He leaned back, the pressure of the group’s attention drawing him back to silence.

“Alright,” I conceded. “Raise your hand if you’ve read the passages about Christ’s birth.”

Not a hand moved. Tono’s sniffles flew through the room as if they were sirens. A mountain of tissues lay at his feet, inspiring me to remind him, again, that he couldn’t leave his dirty tissues on the floor. But I held back—the silence was too valuable to be broken with a scolding.

“Anybody? Guys, this was not meant to be a hard question.”

I caught Juan’s eyes, causing his to widen. He rarely spoke during Bible study, usually saving his thoughts for one-on-one conversation afterwards. His pursing lips and darting eyes told me an internal battle had begun over whether to share or not.

“I’ve never read the story of Christ’s birth,” he blurted, sinking back into the couch as if to hide.

“Me neither,” said Pablo.

Soon after a chorus of suddenly confident voices declared they never had either. The little light bulbs on my sparse Charlie Brown tree blinked off and on. It was my turn to be silent. We stared at each other for another awkward moment.

A chorus of voices declared they had never heard the story of Christ’s birth. Joe sat in stunned silence.

“Have any of you read the story?”

“I have,” sniffled Tono, smiling proudly. “I think.” I looked at him quizzically.

“Guys … you grew up attending church, right?” All but Juan nodded.

“So … what did your churches teach about around Christmas?”

Marcos smirked. “Same thing as always, they just yell and scream stuff that makes no sense.” Knowing laughter exploded into the room.

“Not even a short mention of Jesus’ birth?”

“Yes, but only every few years when someone names their newborn Jesús!” said Kevin.

More knowing laughter.

“No time for a scripture reading?” The following silence told me everything I needed to know.

“Guys … one of Latin America’s most prestigious seminaries is just four to five blocks away from where you live. Are there no opportunities for your pastors to get training there?”

But I already knew the answer to this question.

“That would imply that they wanted to get training there,” replied Pablo, to the nods of the others.

“Guys … if your churches don’t read Scripture … then they’re lost. I don’t know what God they’re worshipping.”

“In that case my church isn’t lost,” said Tono. I fought back the blazing desire to retort that his attending a prosperity gospel church wasn’t any better.

“Look, can we just — let’s just read about Jesus’s birth. Let’s start with Luke chapter 2.”

A flurry of eager hands looked for the Bibles. The warm embrace of encouragement spread through my veins as I observed their genuine enthusiasm to read what they’d been missing out on for so many years.

Speaking with the same cozy simplicity of A Charlie Brown’s Christmas, the boys took turns reading out loud about the baby Jesus for the first time. My heart pounded with excitement for them.

The story of Christ’s birth is still unknown to most of the world. But you can help change that. Talk with a missions coach to explore missions opportunities around the world and see how God can use your gifts for His glory.

Connect with a missions coach today! This link will take you there.

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About the author

Joe Dorris

When Joe Dorris first tried out photography and videography over 15 years ago in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he discovered one of his favorite ways to worship. Ever since, he's strived to invite others into that worship, using photo and video training as an avenue to building discipleship relationships with young people in Guatemala City.


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    • I can’t speak for their churches, but I’ve certainly met many people in the Bible Belt who claim to be Christians but actually know very little of the Scriptures. Cultural Christianity deceives so many into thinking they’re saved simply because they grew up with in the church.

  • Dear Joe,
    I read your journey in the way of spreading God’s words. It’s really wonderful and great. God give you strength and guide you each steps for it. Nice.

    Thanks and regards

  • This was a stirring and compelling story, Joe! I’m so thankful for the amazing work you are doing in Guatemala. May God bless and guide you and your boyitos as you encourage them to know God deeply, and as you pursue Him deeply, too!

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