Sometimes when I think about the missionaries I know, I think that they have it all together, that everything always works out perfectly for them, that they are “super Christians” and they always do good and are never afraid of anything.
A few weeks ago, I woke up to a news article about a shooting on a chicken bus in Guatemala. These are chicken buses at the bus station in Antigua.
They are the main local transportation in Guatemala. Because I don’t have a car there, I only ever ride chicken buses. To get my groceries, to go to church, to visit friends…chicken bus. Basically they are school buses from North America that are deemed unfit to drive small children to school safely. They are sent to Guatemala and decked out with lights, paint, speaker systems, more lights, more paint. They drive at speeds you wouldn’t believe, whipping around corners like nobody’s business. To flag one down, you stand on the road and when you see one coming, you wave your arm and they’ll stop for you. A lot of times it’s more of a rolling stop and you have to make a flying leap onto the steps and hang on for dear life. Most times, it’s 4 people to a seat and the rest squished in the aisles like sardines. It’s noisy, sometimes smelly, crowded and quite the sensory experience! If you come visit me in Guatemala, I promise to take you on a chicken bus and you will NEVER forget the experience 🙂
So I woke up around 5am and read this article from my cosy bed in Canada. It was about a chicken bus in Ciudad Vieja that was attacked. Here’s a picture I took of one of the main roads in Ciudad Vieja last fall. The driver and assistant were killed, and the bus kept driving and ran over a woman and hit three other vehicles. Now, this situation isn’t uncommon in Guatemala. Far too often I hear stories of drivers being shot, etc. So why is this story any different? It’s because I lived in Ciudad Vieja for 4 months this year when I was working with the midwife. I rode this particular chicken bus route several times a week. This is also the route that I will likely take from my new home when I move in October. I could have easily been on that bus. And that hits close to home for me. Needless to say, I didn’t tell my parents about this article! It really jarred me. I couldn’t fall back asleep. My first and only thought was, “oh my goodness.” My mind started racing and all I could think about was all the times I’ve been afraid living in Guatemala. There aren’t too many, but there have been a few.
For example, this past September I was living in Ciudad Vieja and it was my very first night at the women’s health clinic where I worked and lived. I entered the clinic around 5pm, said goodbye to my family in tears, and met the midwives with whom I would be working for the next 4 months. There was a patient there who had suffered a postpartum hemorrhage the night before. The midwife said to me, “Oh, this is great! You are a nurse, we will leave the patient with you tonight.” And that was fine…I knew how to take care of her and do all the medical checks throughout the night to make sure she and the baby were fine. I developed good rapport with her, did some health teaching, and everything was fine. My bedroom was at the back of the clinic, so I left her and told her to call my cell phone if she needed anything (no call bells like we have in the hospital here!).
A few minutes later, there was a knock on the big metal door of the clinic. It’s hard to imagine what the clinic was like, it’s not like any clinic here. Concrete walls, half open to the sky, half covered in a tin roof. It was dark, I hadn’t learned where the light switches were yet, they keys were sticky and didn’t work very well, and it was 9pm and night and someone was knocking on the door. My heart was pounding. I was already on edge because this was a brand new environment for me and I missed my family and I was sad and lonely. So I walk up to the door and fiddle around with the key with shaking hands and finally get the door open. It was the patient’s friend. I guess I’m allowed to let her in, question mark?
I take her down to where the patient is, and head back to my room. Half an hour later, there’s knock on my bedroom door. I jump, obviously. It’s the friend again. She wants to leave so I have to open the door for her. “Okay. I can do this”, I thought, “You’re overreacting”. Then out of no where, fireworks start. People set off fireworks in Guatemala every hour of the day. 1pm, 3am, 9pm, it doesn’t matter when or why..it’s just part of life. A while later, it’s pouring rain and I can’t hear anything because my roof is made of tin. Is someone knocking at the door again, or is that rain? Or is it fireworks? Or is that the marching band going down the street at 11pm? Who really knows. All of the above? Is the patient calling for me? Not really sure..there are so many other noises. Cars honking. People shouting outside. Rain. Fireworks. Babies crying. Engines revving. It’s like hyper-stimulation of all your senses.
Somehow, I fell asleep. I woke up around 5am totally disoriented. I heard someone coming into the clinic through the big metal door. Who was it? Why did they have a key? Should I get up? WHO IS COMING INTO THE CLINIC?! I later learned that the midwives’ families come and go as they please. They cook in the clinic, they shower in the clinic. I still don’t really get it… they have their own houses… but that’s just the way it was.
It was an unsettling first night in Ciudad Vieja. I got used to it, as we do with all new situations. But I was afraid that first night.
And I was afraid when I read that article about the chicken bus in Ciudad Vieja. I could feel my heart start racing. That morning, I was driving to a friend’s house here in Goderich and all I could think about was how safe I felt on these roads. No chicken buses. No chicken bus shootings. Safety is never something I have lacked.
Here’s a bit of a tangent, but I promise it relates. This week a friend introduced me to a documentary called “My Life as a Turkey” (I know, I know. Stay with me, guys!). Here’s the premise: A guy hatches a bunch of wild turkey eggs, imprints himself as the mother, and goes out to live in the wild with them until they’re able to survive on their own. He literally lives in the jungle of Florida with 16 wild turkeys who think he is their mother. He gives up years of his life for these turkeys. Slowly but surely, they all start deserting him and living on their own. There is just one left with him at the end of the movie. He named it Turkey Boy. Cute, right? He and Turkey Boy apparently have a great bond. The guy talks about how they’ve learned to communicate in turkey language and they are like brothers. Until one day…when suddenly Turkey Boy attacks the guy out of no where, and that’s the end of the “brotherly bond” and also the end of the movie. Apparently they weren’t as close as the protagonist had believed…probably because the guy is a human and not a turkey. All the time and energy spent forming a relationship with the turkey was all for naught. At the end of the day, humans are not turkeys.
My point? Sometimes I feel afraid that will happen to me in Guatemala. I’m going there, giving up everything, trying to fit in to a culture that’s not my own and make a difference. But at the end of the day, I’m not Guatemalan. I’m Canadian through and through. I can speak Spanish, sure. But my voice will always have an accent. I will always be identified as the outsider because of my skin colour, eye colour, height (case in point: photo of me with my host family in 2013). I guess deep down I’m afraid that I’ll develop these bonds and relationships and then something will happen and push will come to shove and they will remember that I’m the canchita, the gringa, the canadiense.
As I was preparing to write this tonight, I was reminded that Jesus was rejected by the people He came to save. By His own people. By you and me. I am by no means perfect. Not even close. I don’t gain “super Christian” status because I’m moving countries for Jesus. I don’t exhibit all of the Fruit of the Spirit all of the time. In fact, I could make you a list right now of all the people who would be better missionaries than I would. But why aren’t they? Because God has called them to serve elsewhere. In schools, in hospitals, in businesses. And thank goodness for them! God has called me to Guatemala, in spite of my weaknesses, in spite of the fact that I’m not the “best” person for the job.
In spite of my fears, He has called me to Guatemala. Despite the fact that He tells me over and over and OVER again in the Bible that He is with me, that He will never leave me, that He goes before me, that He will provide for me, that He will protect me…I know all of these things and yet I still feel afraid sometimes. God is really patient with us, isn’t He? How much more clear can He be? “I KNOW THE PLANS I HAVE FOR YOU, PLANS TO PROSPER YOU AND NOT TO HARM YOU, PLANS TO GIVE YOU A HOPE AND A FUTURE” (Jeremiah 29:11).
So yes — I’ll still be riding chicken buses until I save enough to buy a car and insurance, holding on to the roof bars for dear life, silently begging the driver to please slow down and praying for safety when driving through dangerous towns. I’ll still have a tin roof with loud, angry rain falling on it. The fireworks will still go off and startle me. The people will still be yelling louder than necessary outside my front door. But it’s okay! Because God goes with me, and He goes before me.
Thanks for reading!
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