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A letter from YAV Juli Smith in Guatemala

April 2011

Dear friends,

It’s hard to believe that I've only been here in Guatemala for about eight months. I have experienced so much, seen so much, learned so much — truly unbelievable that God chose me for this beautifully challenging journey.

Commiting a year to living in a different country means that I get to experience all of the holidays of the year in a whole new way. While this was fun and exciting for some holidays like Guatemalan Independence Day and Dia de los Inocentes (Guatemalan version of April Fool’s), it was really hard for others like my birthday and Christmas. However, spending these holidays, both familiar and not-so-familiar, in this new context really helped me to fully experience Guatemala and expand my own ideas of what those holidays mean to me (and maybe even pick up some new traditions!)

One such holiday has been Lent and Easter. Antigua, Guatemala (outside of which I now live), is world-renowned for its elaborate sawdust alfombras (carpets) that line the streets for the weekends of Cuaresma (Lent), and then every day of Semana Santa leading up to Easter. People work on huge, elaborate stencils all year long to make their huge alfombras, and then dye sawdust all colors of the rainbow to make intricate designs. Flowers, fruits and vegetables are also used sometimes for extra ornamentation. People meticulously work for hours on their colorful alfombras and one after the other they line the streets that are the procession routes.

Yes, that’s right, after months of planning designs, creating stencils and dying sawdust, and then hours of carefully pouring sawdust into the forms and creating huge and elaborate alfombras, about a hundred men wearing purple robes called Cucuruchus process with a huge wooden float of Jesus and His cross and trample the carpets. It’s an incredible site to see, and thousands of tourists come from around Guatemala and the world to see the incense-soaked processions throught the streets.

The Lenten season is also accompanied by velaciones, which I got to see each weekend with my Catholic host familly. Each Catholic church gets assigned one Gospel passage and one weekend to make an incredible scene of that passage — with lights, life-size mannequins and a booming voice recording of the Bible passage — which takes over their entire altar, and again hundreds of people crowd around to see and experience the Message.

Seeing these very new and different expressions of Jesus’ life and death really helped me to understand the Easter season more deeply. I could really hear, see, smell and taste the miracle of Jesus’ life and resurrection in a whole new way, and I feel so grateful for the simple majesty of the velaciones that showed scenes from His life, and for the endurance of the men and women who made the beautiful carpets, and for the strength of those who carried the heavy floats in the processions. They truly opened my eyes to new ways to understand the Gospel and new ways to bring glory to God, and I hope that these new expressions of Easter are something that I can, in some way, take back to the United States with me at the end of this year.

Thanks for following along with me on this journey and for praying with me each step of the way.


Also, for more, check out my blog and online photo albums.


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