A girl from Guatemala discovers the light of the gospel in Alaska.
As the morning mist mixed with the bright beams of the sun’s first rays over Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, ten-year-old Hany Guzmán would stand out on her earthen porch to greet the day. With a mug of atol de elote in her hand, she watched the cool fog slowly dissipate and the shadows silently disperse as they gave way to the scorching heat and piercing light of a Sunday morning. The sweet, corn beverage brought warmth to her body and strength for the day as she helped get her family ready for church. Slipping through the front door, she would wake her three younger siblings with whom she shared a single bed. They would march off together to attend their local congregation’s misa. Sometimes her parents would accompany them and other times they went alone, but Hany wouldn’t miss a mass for the world.
They soon found their customary spot in the back of church and sat down. Although the sun still shone brightly through the stained-glass windows of the cathedral, it seemed as though an even denser fog settled in. Hany and her siblings heard the priest read the Bible and give short talks about how they were to pray to the right saints to find fame and fortune, but it just didn’t seem to make sense. There was a spiritual haze that never seemed to lift, a darkness that just wouldn’t disappear. Hany wondered to herself, Is there any way I can go to heaven?
Living in the dark
Many things about life in Guatemala were dark and dismal. Little hope lurked on the horizon. With political unrest in their home country exacerbating the already crippled economy, the Guzmán family found themselves looking for a new life. Some of their relatives had already made the move, pioneering a path to the North—all the way to Alaska, the Last Frontier.
To Hany, Alaska had been nothing more than a place on a map meriting little more than a passing mention in geography class. To her, it seemed like a fictional land shrouded by snow and ice and smattered with bears and other beasts. Never, not even in her wildest imaginations, had she ever considered that she would call it home.
A hot and muggy December day marked the occasion for a life-altering trip. Hany recalls waking up before the sun rose to get on a bus that would take her family to Aeropuerto Internacional la Aurora in Guatemala City. As she wiped the sweat off her brow before entering the air-conditioned plane, she wondered to herself what the future held. She stared out the window, watching her home country shrink until it was completely covered in clouds. She said a silent prayer, asking God to bless her new beginning in the United States.
After a trip of more than 5,000 miles, the Guzmán family landed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Hany pulled her coat close around herself to brace herself against the arctic air and, in a way, to face the cold and bleak unknown of the frigid far north.
Finding the Light
Although the plane touched down in darkness, a bright ray of hope was beaming. So much more awaited the Guzmán family than a robust economy, a safer environment to raise a family, and a better educational system. Soon the Light of the world would illuminate their path.
It wasn’t all sunny skies for Hany, though. The time of transition necessitated bouncing from one place to the next as they looked for a place to live. It was hard to have any sense of stability with so much upheaval. Attending a new school is difficult enough for any child. Uprooting a kid from an entirely different culture, customs, and educational system is downright jarring. Mix in a new language and you’ve got the perfect recipe for frustration and failure.
A relative helped find the Guzmán family a place in an apartment complex. Oddly enough, perched on the side of the road in plain sight from their new apartment stood a burgundy sign with white letters that piqued their interest: Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. The family decided to stop by and see why their new neighbors had a sign written in Spanish.
On a bright and sunny summer evening in Anchorage, the seven o’clock sun still burned intensely on the hot parking lot as the Guzmán family—Rebecca, Hany, Brianna, David, and Alegría—dropped by Faith Lutheran Church. Hany had begun to acclimate to her new school setting, and reaching deep into the little English training she had in her Guatemalan schooling, she mustered the courage to knock on the door. It came as a relief when a pastor greeted them with a smile and, even more important, in Spanish. As the warmth of their relationship grew, the Holy Spirit used the light of the gospel to pierce through the gloom of shallow theology and bring true peace.
Living in the Light
The entire Guzmán family quickly became involved in church life—especially Hany, who craved more and more of the truths she was learning from the cate-chism. In fact, she was personally responsible for seeing her church’s catechism class grow from a dozen kids to over 30. With an influx of immigrants from Central America into the neighborhoods, Hany took the initiative to invite them to learn what she had. One friend at a time joined the class until a dozen immigrants from countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras were coming to class.
Without a good grasp of English, these students needed a new class in their native language. At first, these ambitious students wanted to try their hand at attending catechism class in English. They held their own initially, but everyone soon admitted that a class in Spanish would be better. Pastors often wonder if adding another opportunity is worth the time and effort, but these eager souls made the answer to that question easy and obvious.
Five years later, a frigid December morning in Anchorage was grey and the sun would only creep along the horizon. A glance outside at the thermometer showed 25 degrees below zero as the first hints of daylight slowly revealed the silhouette of the mountains beneath a cloudless sky. It was Sunday morning, and it was still Hany’s job to wake her younger siblings for church, but they could wait a while to brave the cold.
The short trip to church was less than a block. Hany started to make some hot chocolate as she waited for the sun to creep over the Chugach Mountains. In a few short hours, she and her siblings would be on their way to Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. She still wouldn’t miss a service for the world. Although the sun barely skimmed the tops of the peaks outside, inside her church one thing was clear—the light of the gospel had changed her life. The same sun that warmed her face in Guatemala now shone through the stained-glass windows of her new church, but here the mystery of salvation was no longer unknown. Here she heard the unobscured gospel that brought clarity to her mind and comfort to her soul.
Hany and her sisters and brother found their spots in the back pew. From her vantage point, Hany could see many people she had invited to church herself. Later in the service, the congregation would confess its faith together using the familiar words of the explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “All this he did that I should be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.”
There was no longer any doubt; the darkness dissipated, and the fog lifted. Wiping away a tear, Hany chimed in with confidence and conviction: “¡Esto es ciertamente la verdad!” This is most certainly true!
Author: Christopher Ewings
Volume 107, Number 09
Issue: September 2020