Last month, six students from The Seattle School participated in a one-week intensive in Guatemala City. Under the leadership and instruction of Dr. Ron Ruthruff, Associate Professor of Theology & Culture, students were invited to establish conversation partners with Guatemalan leaders and increase awareness of those who are loving God and neighbor in a different cultural and geographical location. Here, Kenzi Roberson, second-year MA in Theology & Culture student, reflects on her experience in Guatemala and the lingering invitation to live differently at home. (Photo by Jesse Smith of Downtown Scout Photography.)
Tears brimming in my eyes, I ran. Away from familiar faces and voices speaking my language, I pounded my feet onto the ground as I tried to pound down the feelings rising within me. Step. Women who have been sexually abused by trusted men. Step. Children with dirty faces living in a garbage dump. Step. Churches distancing themselves from the least, last, and lost. Step. The gravesite of a Guatemalan president offering hope and a new way forward, ousted through American means.
Step. Step. Step.
I ran for the hurt and I ran for the beauty. Step. Women coming together in a testament of life and courage to raise a child begotten through abuse. Step. A pastor giving up the prestige and honor of his role to care for kids living on the street. Step. An organization founded by a white North American transitioning into Guatemalan leadership. Step. A father’s deep love for his daughters. Step. A man changing his ministry to work with youth because that is what God is placing before him.
I ran because I couldn’t contain the extremities of my experiences. The love and kindness of the people we met would have been overwhelming enough on their own, but they gained even more significance in light of the deep corruption and evil they stand against. I ran because I couldn’t hold the beauty and the affliction and the God who is found in both.
What I learned on this trip, though, is that it isn’t for me to contain the complexity of Guatemala. There are Guatemalans doing that work, and doing it far better than I can being so far removed from the situation. Instead, my task is twofold. First, I am to bear witness, to see how God is moving in even the hardest places in surprising and powerful ways. And then, as one bearing witness, my task is to come home, to return to Seattle, to Columbia City, with curiosity and love. How do I sit on the bus with a deeper awareness and love for the people of my city? How do I have authentic conversations with my neighbors that create a glimpse of the hope found in the Incarnate God?
Going to Guatemala wasn’t about going to pass judgment and offer solutions. The systems of poverty and corruption are never so simple as they seem from the outside, anyways. It would have been arrogant and foolish to think we could make a lasting difference in the span of a week. Instead, we went to learn, to see what authentic love can look like. We went to meet people and hear stories of how God is moving and drawing people into the Kingdom. We were drawn into stories everywhere we went, weeping and laughing with people as we heard about what it means to live into incarnational love.
The invitation now is to see God in the beauty and the affliction here, to be moved by it, and to live differently for it. It is not an easy invitation to be accepted lightly, because the pain of engaging is real. No matter where you live, the cost must be counted.
As I’m settling back into life in Seattle, I’ve realized that I am still counting the cost. I don’t know how to fully process and integrate my experience in Guatemala, but I do know that I’m holding this invitation—and it needs a response.
Ron Ruthruff and the six students who participated in the Guatemala trip will be gathering in The Seattle School Commons at 5:00pm tonight, May 26, to share some stories, show a few pictures, and join a conversation. All are welcome.