I have so many stories to share from our trip this past week to Guatemala. I’ve got to start with what is probably the most fascinating, as well as startling, story. Statistics show that the religious practices are somewhat mixed in the country. Many of the statistics that are floating around concerning Evangelicals appear to be grossly innacurate. The missionary that we are working with recently completed an extensive multi-year research project that highlights some interesting stats about the religious practices of the Guatemalan people. One fact that is undeniable, however, is that Mayanism is making a dramatic comeback in some areas of the country. The animistic spiritism of the ancient Mayan rituals is carrying an appeal for many people in the country. The fact that the current president of the country happens to be a Mayan priest helps that, no doubt. That information helps set up this story.
The city we are working in, Santa Cruz del Quiche, is home to one of the most fascinating areas of Mayan ruins in the country. According the the local museum, this Mayan city was once the center of all Mayan kingdoms in Central America. In order to understand more about the area and the Mayan culture, our team spent one morning at the Mayan ruins known as Gumarcaaj. The picture below is a picture of the unrestored ruins of Gumarcaaj.
One of the beauties of visiting historical areas in a 3rd world country is the access that would be unprecedented here in the States. As a result of that, we were able to climb on the ancient ruins, which were now covered in grass, and take pictures of the site. As we were standing on one of the ruins, we noticed what appeared to be a plume of smoke. Following it to its source, we found an incense sacrifice burning.
When we followed the smoke plume to its source, we noticed the sacrifice was sitting on the top of a cliff. We followed a small dirt trail down the cliff and found a cave with three more sacrifices burning on fires outside the mouth of the cave.
We saw a small lady disappear into the cave and so we decided that we would like to see what was happening inside. We began to walk into an unbelievable cave. It was dark and had obviously been there for quite some time. It was also obvious that it was used regularly. They had placed small candles on the walls to provide a small amount of light and as we looked off in the distance we noticed what appeared to be more light and the sound of people so we continued walking into the cave. We walked until we were a good ways underground. The picture below was taken while looking back, towards the entrance of the cave.
When we got to the source of the light and noise we found that the cave opened up into a small room which was filled with a number of Quiche who were sitting or kneeling. They were all chanting and facing a small altar that was covered with incense, flowers and candles. A few of them were gathered right around the altar. We realized that we had stumbled right in the middle of an ancient Mayan worship service. Somewhat stunned, we tried to discreetly stand at the entrance to the room and quiety observe. The Quiche obviously noticed our presence and allowed us to stay, although I’m honestly unsure if they were happy we were there or not.
We turned our flashes off on our cameras and attempted to take a few pictures quietly. Only one of them turned out and it’s the one that you see below.
We only stayed a few mintues, and then we made our way out of the cave and back up to the ground on top of the cave. We positioned ourselves in a spot that we believed was directly above the worshippers below and we held an impromptu prayer service for the Quiche people.
Of all the things that we did this past week, none impacted me more nor reminded me more of the desparate need for the Gospel. There is an assumption that this area of the world is reached with the Gospel that we believe to simply be untrue. While there may be many churches, few appear to be producing authentic converts. What aspects of Christianity we found were most often mixed with Mayanism to create a synthetic brand of Christianity that was not authentic faith at all. The missionary we work with has lived there for 21 years and has studied the Quiche people and his research leads him to believe that a very small number of professing Evangelicals actually have an authentic faith in Christ.
This is a dark, dark place, spiritually. My heart is broken over the spiritual state of the Quiche people. In spite of that, however, I have great hope. I have hope because of God’s great grace in my life and the opportunity to share with others in Guatemala about that grace. I’m looking forward, with great anticipation, to what God is going to do among the Quiche people!