A letter from Dennis and Maribel Smith in Guatemala
30 March 2009
2009 is off to a violent start in Guatemala City. More than 30 bus drivers, assistants, and passengers have been killed in the metropolitan area in the first three months of the year.
For years, youth gangs have charged bus drivers “protection” money when their routes run through gang territory. Now, as the Guatemalan government tries to strengthen the rule of law and challenge the power of the fiefdoms that have been built by gangs and drug lords, organized crime is pushing back. This, combined with the violence generated by unemployment and hunger, sparks a general climate of insecurity.
The simple task of getting from home to work to school to the shopping center to church and back generates stress; one is never certain when and where random violence will strike.
Slowly, the current government is moving to establish the rule of law with the help of the UN-sponsored International Commission to Combat Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). But the continued killing of bus drivers reminds the public that the government has not been able to portray an image of competence and strength.
How can Guatemalan churches respond to this challenge?
In Cedepca, we encourage our students to reflect deeply on what faithfulness to Jesus requires in such harsh circumstances. Last Sunday, our pastor, a professor at Cedepca, proclaimed that more guns will never bring peace, nor will more soldiers in the streets make us safe. Building public security is a civilian, not a military, task. Peace, he said, will only come to Guatemala City when we nourish a sense of civic responsibility and justice in our homes, our schools, and our churches.
But our students sadly note that many churches support vigilantism from the pulpit or withdraw from social engagement in fear or frustration.
Who will speak a word of hope?
The other day I was at a stop light not far from home. As in many big cities, stop lights here can be dangerous places. (Is that kid a carjacker or just asking for money?) So you only open your windows a crack and you avoid eye contact with others. I was surprised when a middle-aged man, obviously poor, approached my window bearing Gospel tracts, a gentle smile on his face. With great respect he slipped two tracts through the slit in the window. In a soft voice he said: “May God bless you! Be not afraid.”
One of the tracts ended with this encouragement from Psalm 32:7: “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”
Under the Mercy,
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277