Chaplain Dana D. Craft -San Cristobal, Guatemala, Guatemala City (4.18.16)
Hermana Noemy’s Story
Standing back, in the shadows of humility, behind those of her neighbors who were sitting atop the broken plastic stools or overturned cinderblocks, I remember seeing sister Noemy for the first time. Why? Even though she stood just far enough away to not draw attention to herself while yet remaining part of the group, I remember her not because of her simple but clean dress nor because of her children clinging to its worn edges, but because of the tiny tan Bible she held in her hands. There are a great many things that I do not know in this life…but I can most certainly spot a well-used Bible. Now hers was one with the tattered and dog-eared corners one only sees when someone is reading the Lord’s word with passion and voracity. Its spine and cover had the scars and wrinkles of being overused far too many times. The edges of the text block were covered in the dust and dirt of the street and not from merely sitting on a table safely in her home.
It was in that very first service, some two years ago, that I happened to glance over in her direction as another sister was reading a Psalm that I saw the many stains of tears and how the ink had smudged from her finger’s passing over the same lines countless times that I knew she belonged to God. Only later did I come to discover that, like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Lk. 8:31), she had loved God but had never understood what the Holy Scriptures were telling her. Why am I sharing this part of her story? Because it will put into context the rest of what I am about to share.
She wasn’t out front trying to get a look at the new Gringo pastor and his Guatemalan wife; to see what donations we brought to give out. Nor were her kids overly rambunctious and boisterous ones. They just seemed to stand in the back, like foreigners, within this ragtag group of a dozen or so garbage workers, scavengers and the simply lost.
From that first day, when I announced that I had come to share something of eternal value with them, something which would go against everything that they had come to believe was of importance in their dog-eat-dog world and that I was giving it away at no cost, she has never missed a service or activity.
Hermana Noemy is the mother to six children ranging in age from 13 to just 4 years old. On any given day, when we are not holding services, she can be seen on the dusty corner behind a tiny wooden table sitting on an overturned milk crate selling tiny pieces of charbroiled chicken she cooks over an open flame back in the middle of her living room. Her youngest children are quietly playing in the dirt about her feet. She sells a single portion of chicken for Q6.00 (.76 USD). She needs to sell fifteen portions merely to break-even. Many days she sell only a handful of plates. In the late afternoon, her older children arrive back home. Their modest home consists of a single room measuring 12’ x 10’ and is made from corrugated aluminum pieces and discarded wood planks and decorated with items they salvaged from the trash of Guatemala City’s more fortunate inhabitants. She spends the late afternoons sitting with her kids as they cut up the soda cans, which the older ones gathered earlier in the day, to sell to the local recycling plant. By early evening her husband returns from work, where he recycles garbage for twelve hours a day for less than a few dollars a week. He is actually a butcher but has been out of work for too long for anyone to remember the exact amount of time.
Out of the 500+ families who live in their community, only a handful are actually living with their marriage partner. Again, Noemy and her family truly live as foreigners within the violent, noisy and chaotic mass of utter mayhem.
Here comes the part that has profoundly encouraged me to keep working so hard. Hermana Noemy, who, from the perspective of most, has every excuse to curse God or at least be running from Him. Yet, whenever you see her sitting behind that uneven wooden table quietly selling portions of chicken, take a good look at what she is doing. She is not making eye-contact with prospective clients, her children are supposed to be doing that. Instead, her head is down and she is reading her Bible laid open on her lap.
And now after approximately a hundred sermons, including a few lessons from the great creeds, she has come to know who the Lord our God is along with the unending love of His only Son. She can recite more verses than nearly anyone I know, which includes those I went to seminary with! She has now begun to also join us for Sunday worship at the second church plant in another part of the Guatemala City. This other congregation is composed of lawyers, a doctor, a judge and many other professional elites. Her children are now playing with their children during service. She is asking and answering questions after the sermon with all the others and, somehow, her clothes are clean and fresh and she fits right in. The others have no idea of where or how she lives. Upon her first time with this congregation my wife simply introduced her by name and said she was from here in the city.
However, the others arrive in air-conditioned cars, a few in SUVs or by bus, hermana Noemy and her six children (and occasionally her husband) walk nearly two hours, each way, to worship the Lord with us. Let me repeat, our beloved sister is walking in the dirty-smog-filled and steamy air of Guatemala City every Sunday for four long hours just to be in the “Lord’s House” for two.
Additionally, now that she knows who God is, she has become the Salt and the Light of the whole community. She is fielding theology questions from her neighbors when I am not there and she is living out Christ’s Sermon on the Mount as best as anyone can. All she needed was someone to come and unlock the door with the key which the Lord had already given her from before her birth (Jeremiah 1:5).
Many times, among those of us who plant churches, it is all too easy to get lost in the endless details, to lose the forest for the trees. We were never commanded to go out into the world and plant churches but rather to make disciples. Our dear sister Noemy has become one of the greatest disciples of Christ I have ever met. And she goes home each night to sleep within the Guatemala City garbage dump while holding that same little tan Bible.