Among the friends I am privileged to have in Guatemala is a man I particularly enjoyed spending time with while we lived there, Elmer. Elmer is on staff at New Life Children's Home, where we were very thankful to have the opportunity to serve for two years. His job description there is hard to define: he is one of the workers who can drive, so he spends a lot of time fighting traffic in Guatemala City running errands for the home and also helps with maintenance and construction projects. More than those things, though, he is a mentor to many of the boys who live at NLCH.
Elmer and I got along well because I'm not sure which of the two of us is more laid back. (I might have thought we were related if he weren't a foot and a half shorter than me.) I enjoyed life at the Guatemalan pace, and (other than the speed at which he drives) he exemplifies it. I remember riding with him on some errands in the city one day, when in the small Ford Ranger-type pickup he was driving, we drove over a huge, deep pothole (more like a sinkhole) in the middle of the street. Because of the traffic, we couldn't see it until it was right in front of us, and our truck had to have just barely been wide enough to clear it. My eyes got huge, and I looked at Elmer, who had no reaction whatsoever. Didn't say a word. After my heart resumed beating, I asked, "Did you see that?!?" In his normal voice, without ever looking back at the street or at me, he said, "Sí... Muy peligroso/Yep... Pretty Dangerous."
Elmer and his family live in similar conditions to many Guatemalans. I don't know what his salary is, but an average Guatemalan lives on something around $2/day. Yet he's very content. He told me "Sometimes guys try to tell me that I should go work with them, doing this or that and make more money. But I have what I need. My family has a place to live and my kids are fed. Everything else is in God's hands."
As Elmer and I got to know each other, I discovered a love for learning in him, which furthered our friendship. As a boy, he attended school through the third grade, then his father told him, "now that you can read and do math, it's time to go to work," and his schooling was over. As the older boys at NLCH would occasionally complain about having to go to school and complete their studies, Elmer was always quick to remind them how privileged they were to have the opportunity, and would talk to them about the possibilities that education could open for them.
He particularly wanted to study the Bible. Not long before we moved back from Guatemala, I learned that he was one of the leaders in his church. He told me that he had heard of courses being offered for those who wanted to become ministers and he really wanted to participate but hadn't been able to yet.
This past June, we returned to visit NLCH for the first time in the two years since we left. I was thrilled to find out that Elmer's church had been offering ministry classes and that he'd been able to participate. He invited us over for dinner one evening, and we had a great time with his family. His boys were all dressed up for our visit (see photo below) and his wife had a good meal of taquitos, fried plantains and coffee ready for us. Elmer proudly showed me his study materials. It was obvious he had been working hard, because the courses were pretty in-depth: New Testament, Old Testament, Church History, and some good material on ministry skills. One section of his material dealt with "success in ministry," and we had a good conversation about that. I told him I'd recently read an article by Dallas Willard with the best definition I'd heard: success for a pastor is having a vital relationship with God and the capacity to pass it on to others. That's important (and difficult) for any pastor to hang on to, regardless of which culture we're in.
Elmer's graduation from his ministry courses was Sunday, August 22. I wish I could have been there to see it, but look forward to celebrating with him the next time we visit.
Elmer, yo quería traducir esto en español también, pero ya es tarde y mi cabeza no me sirve. Te lo prometo que todo lo que dice es amable, ¡y no tenía que mentir! Que sepas que celebramos contigo. Que los estudios que has cumplido te sirven para seguir ayudando a otros conocer mejor al Señor, igual como me has ayudado a mí. Que nosotros dos siempre recuerdan que el éxito para un pastor es tener una relación viviente con Dios y la capacidad de pasarla a los demás, y también recordar que nuestros ministerios primarios siempre son nuestras esposas e hijos. Cualquiera cosa más de esto no es central. Hasta que nos vemos, mi hermano, que la gracia y paz de Jesucristo sean tuyos en abundancia.