By Katherine Hilzer
To know Jesus is to have a relationship with him. Given this remarkable truth, it makes perfect sense that we also encounter Jesus through relationships with one another. I got to know God more during our week in Guatemala, partly because I got to help build water filters and latrines, but mostly because I got to witness and participate in the building of relationships that neither rust nor moth will destroy. I experienced God through seeing his people love each other by working and playing side by side, through laughing, sweating, and sharing their faith journeys with eagerness and sincerity. I witnessed the Holy Spirit speaking to his called-ones through one another. I saw beauty among spiritual and material poverty because we were living out the gospel by exemplifying Paul’s words when he tells the church to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ “ (Galatians 6:2).
We experienced God through relationships developed between his people who are from different cultures, languages and generations– a powerful reminder of how grand God is, how he unites our hearts and minds around the globe before we even meet. Heaven will be a united kingdom and God has already started that kingdom of reconciliation here and now in this life. We got to experience a beautiful slice of heaven in our time with God’s people in Guatemala.
But let’s back up a little bit and acknowledge the backstory to why we got to experience God in the flesh, God at work, holy living, the power of the Holy Spirit, all in a remote village in Guatemala. First, God reconciled us to himself in the person and work of Jesus, then God put it in human hearts to continue this reconciliation through the work of God’s people.
Enter Gerber Perez, a young Guatemalan man confronted with the physical needs of the indigenous people of Guatemala. On a missionary visit with his family, a woman brought her infant to him to ask for prayer. The child was obviously quite ill and Gerber was overcome by the realization that what this mother and child needed in that moment was not prayer, but medical attention. He put them in his truck and drove three hours to a hospital where her desperate prayers were answered. Thus Gerber began to realize that yes, we as God’s people are called to pray, but we are also called to be the answer to others’ prayers. What does it look like to be the answer to someone’s prayers in our community? What if we asked how our community would look if God’s kingdom came down? What can we do, how can we act to effect that change now? That is the work of God’s people. This is the working out of our gift of faith in Santa Barbara right now.
Because of Gerber’s call to act out his faith, and his obedience to answer that call, people in Guatemala are experiencing God’s kingdom come down. God’s kingdom is being built through constructing latrines, water filters, fuel efficient stoves, by providing medical attention, education and theology. And this is being done by a community of Guatemalans, yet we get to partner in this kingdom work through our relationships and financial support. If you tithe at SBCC, you are part of bringing God’s grace and reconciliation to Guatemala. And from the comfort of your own home! We got the privilege of being uncomfortable leaving our homes for a short time to be blessed to witness firsthand some of what God is doing in Guatemala.
Now we are challenged by the call to be a little uncomfortable in our own communities to carry out God’s call to action in our faith. Like the forming of a precious pearl, our discomfort will over time create something beautiful. So ask yourself, “What agitates me?” As Gerber challenged us, what makes you angry or ignites passion in you can be God calling you to action.
I will end by extending yet another challenge that Gerber gently gave us. In the remote villages of Guatemala, it is easy to see the physical poverty. We see need for clean water, improved health care and education, and we can act on addressing these needs. By contrast, in most of America, our poverty is often spiritual in nature. What might we see if we ask the questions, “In what ways do we see spiritual poverty? What prayers might those around us have? How can we be the answers to those prayers?”
I’ve just begun to reflect on the questions and answers this challenge elicits. I think a lot of people (believers included) are lonely and our friendship can be an answer to prayer. I think a lot of people lack purpose. When we share our encouragement that God has a plan for them, it’s fresh, clean water to their souls. I think we believe the lie that material possessions will bring us joy. We escape our pain through the distraction of screens, the numbing of alcohol, the deflection of constant activity. We hide behind our beliefs and God is calling us to stop hiding, to be brave and vulnerable and to bring his kingdom down through what we do for others. In this, our souls will be satisfied.
We are not too young, we are not too old, too rich or too poor for God to use us. And we are always ripe for receiving the joy that comes from serving our God by serving his creation through gracious relationships that reflect our triune God.