Loving God, we come before you today, so deeply grateful for sunshine after all the rain. We love hearing birds singing to each other, and our souls join in with their chorus praising you, Our Beloved Creator.
But God, we feel those rain storms and clouds still hanging over us, unable to shake the humidity off, just as we are unable to shake off our pains that we carry with us. We still carry the hurt and agony over the Charleston shooting a few years ago, and the Pulse Nightclub shooting a year ago, and it hurts that violence and death continue to make their mark with the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice. O God, this should not be. We mourn with our beloved siblings in Christ, devastated that anger comes at so high a cost. We pray for their families, for those who lost loved ones, and for those who are survivors, who will need your strength to make it through healing and moving through these days, weeks, and months to come.
We pray for our World, O God of the Universe. We pray most especially for your beloved children, the littlest ones who are more in tune with you than we are more often than not. We pray for little Laylah Washington, who was killed in a road rage shooting in Memphis. We are all your children, O God, and you are our beloved parent. You mourn and grieve when any of you children die, be it innocent lives caught in air strikes, to fires in high rise buildings, to the sailors who were killed at sea. You are not a God of death, but one of life, and you move our hearts with compassion, to mourn alongside our siblings in Christ.
We have to trust, O God, that as our tears linger in the nighttime, that joy will come with the morning, that you will provide us with laughter once more. For laughter is so often our greatest medicine, has the power to turn strangers into friends, to turn enemies into family. We are thankful for those who find themselves in a season of laughter, with celebrations of the joy of graduations, of new jobs, and new seasons of life beginning. We pray for our mission team that is being sent to Guatemala, and that laughter would be a binding force to cut through any anxieties and fears.
We are thankful for fathers today—for fathers, grandfathers, step-fathers, adoptive fathers, and those who father in countless ways, from education, to farming, to technology, and most especially our church fathers, both the saints who have gone before us and the saints seated in our midst.
Almighty and all-merciful God, on this Memorial Day weekend we lift up to you with admiration for their courage and with great sadness for their deaths in late youth and early adulthood the soldiers, sailors, marines and flyers who have died in our nation’s wars at home and abroad. Precious is the life of each of them now and for eternity.
Compassionate God, we hold up to you with deep empathy the parents, spouses, sweethearts and siblings of these dead whose hearts were broken and who were left desolate by their terrible loss.
We commend to your care veterans of past and current wars who are facing life with the physical and emotional wounds resulting from those traumatic experiences.
Righteous and merciful Judge of humankind, we bow before you in deep contrition for the pride and prejudice and hostility which are the fruits of sin and which are themselves the soil out of which all warfare grows. Wash us in the blood of your Son, Jesus, who died by our hands and who was raised up by you that our human race might be delivered from ways of death and destruction and established in ways of justice and peace.
God of truth and light, convert Christian dispensationalists who resist and even oppose the efforts of peacemakers, especially in the Middle East, because they believe fervently that these wars are your preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus and the culmination of human history. Convert Islamic fundamentalists who believe that they are serving your purposes in a holy war against all who do not embrace their beliefs. Convert any of us who believe, for whatever reason, that we are serving you by killing others.
We pray especially today for the survivors of all who lost their lives in the violent attacks against the people of Manchester, England and against the people and ministries of Dansalan College in the Philippines, and we pray for the exposure and defeat of all misguided souls who are perpetrators of such atrocities.
Loving God, we lift up to you daughters and sons of our nation who are in military service this day. Make them brave and resolute in the doing of their duty. Give them the courage and moral fiber needed for refusing to do anything which contradicts what they believe to be right. Keep them safe and return them to us whole in body, mind and spirit.
Hear us also as we pray for friends and loved ones who have not and do not serve in the military but who have been and are courageous soldiers in the battles of life, struggling to stand firmly for what is good and true in spite of all kinds of dangers, toils and snares. Be their strength and hope and comfort as they live out the days ahead of them.
We thank you, God, that you are the Beginning and the End and that, between begining and end, you are our strength and our refuge.
Spirit of strength, make us strong in you. Give us strength of body that we may do our work well and cheerfully and bear the burdens of others. Give us strength of mind that we may fearlessly accept your truth and faithfully hold to it. Give us strength of heart that we may love you with all our powers and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Spirit of comfort, we commend to you all who are in any kind of trouble or affliction; those who are burdened with anxiety, depression, physical or spiritual poverty, sickness of body or mind or any other adversity.
Spirit of eternal life, we remember before you all who have faithfully lived, all who have peacefully died, and especially those who have been most dear to us. Lift us into the light and love which they share with you and give us, at the last, our place with them and you.
And unto your name, with the church on earth and the church in heaven, we ascribe all honor and glory, and pray with your Son our Lord:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
What have I learned about myself so far? Well to my surprise I've learned a lot of things this past few months. This mission trip means a lot to me, to many of my peers, and most definitely to the wonderful people in Chajul.
I've learned that I am very nervous about this trip: I think I am nervous because this is my first time out of the US. I will not have my mother or grandparents by my side, and this will feel awkward at first, but I know I am going on this trip with amazing people. I have also learned how curious I am about entering a new culture. I hope we can bring something meaningful to Guatemala, but also discover what we will receive in return.
Last year’s trip
to Guatemala was pretty eye opening. As any of the other members of
last year’s trip will tell you, being completely immersed in a
different culture really changes your perspective. A big question
that I’ve been asked is why I want to go back this year. The answer
is pretty simple really—I have to.
I don’t mean, “I
have to” like I’m being forced back. I want to go back; I just
have extra responsibility now. As one of the returning members of
this trip, I am called to help the first timers adjust to the
Guatemalan culture. A big issue with international trips, especially
in a less developed country, is culture shock.
People often get
very uncomfortable around new and different things, especially when
they are completely surrounded by it non-stop. Last year, we all
experienced culture shock in different ways. The newcomers among us
weren’t truly prepared for the language barrier, the driving
differences, the diet etc. Now knowing all of this, I can better help
the others prepare for such changes.
I also have to go
back to finish the job we started last year. When we left, we had
painted their church interior, but their student center was little
more than a frame with dirt floors, exposed wires and rebar sticking
out of the roof. There will always be more to do and more ways to
serve. We will find new and interesting ways to use our time on this
trip, and I will be eager to help with every scenario that comes.
Overall, there are
some things that I am not looking forward to. I won’t like having
to communicate through someone else. I won’t like the inability to
wear shorts even when it’s hot outside and I especially won’t
like eating chicken and black beans for a straight week…again. I am
willing to overlook these things in order to return to Guatemala
eager to serve and help others. I really didn’t have a choice
whether I was returning to Guatemala or not, but sometimes that’s a
I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. Most people know that.
What you might not know is that I also spent my most formative spiritual years (17 – 22) attending charismatic, conservative, evangelical youth groups and churches. You also might not know that the small, solo pastor, Presbyterian Church I grew up in was part of a local Inter-Ministerial Alliance. This Inter-Ministerial Alliance (to my knowledge) consisted of our Presbyterian Church, as well as 8-12 local Black Missionary Baptist Churches. During Holy Week, each church part of the IMA would get together every single night at a host church to hear a sermon given by a guest church on one of the last seven words of Christ. My family’s close family friends, the Stells, were members of one of these BMBCs, so oftentimes, the kids would end up going just so that we could see the Stell kids (who were homeschooled in contrast to me and my siblings attending public school). As my Presbyterian Church was the biggest, we would host the Maundy Thursday service, and the sanctuary would be as packed as it was on Easter morning. These Holy Week services started out as a time to see the Stells when I was in junior high, but as I grew older, it became something more, something I needed to attend every Holy Week because the worship was so vastly different, and yet there was something about it that was so achingly familiar.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that having spent so many formative years in churches that are unashamed of shouting, “Amen!” and “Come on Preacher!” in the middle of sermons, of uplifted hands to the heavens during worship, of nodding and many murmurings of “Yes Lord” during prayers, that I find myself so at home in Guatemala and worship at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Chajul (yes, that’s it’s official name, so there should be some clues already there as to worship in the church name!). Kids are running around in the aisles and chatting with each other (and the Americans they’re so attached to). Worship songs bring everyone in the congregation to tears (and one song can last 25 minutes). And when you pray, everyone starts speaking all at once, moaning, weeping, and wailing. It reminds me of those years growing up, of the Holy Week Services and of the various evangelical churches and youth groups I attended during the end of high school and throughout college.
I left the Presbyterian Church because there was an element of spirituality and energy that my soul found in evangelical churches, but I chose to return home to my Presbyterian roots when I realized the spiritual highs were nowhere near as sustaining as Reformed theology and the Presbyterian’s clinging to of the never-ending grace of God, and deep held conviction of our calling to serve others. My spirituality continues to move and adapt, has been refined and honed in over the years, but the reason why I need—not want, need—to return to Guatemala, is because this is a place where my past and present collide, where I’m able to preach and help lead worship, but also where it is as easy as breathing to lift my voice in prayer with the saints around me, and to weep at the sheer beauty of the love and grace of God that spans from Williamsburg, to Guatemala City, to Chajul, and to the ends of the earth.