Our neighborhood in Cobán is called La Libertad, which means “freedom.” Residents, for the most part, are working poor, with an ethnic mixture of about ⅔ Q´eqchi´ and ⅓ Ladino. Small homes are crammed along 3ra Avenida, the main thoroughfare, as well as a network of narrow side streets and footpaths that climb into the surrounding hillsides. Buses crawl back and forth on 3ra Avenida, which is usually very dusty or muddy. (See photo of street in front of our house) Much of the street is unpaved, and it floods knee-deep in places when it rains hard. Most blocks feature a couple small general stores, a tortilla maker, and other assorted shops. Yes, petty delinquency is a nuisance, but fortunately organized gangs haven´t penetrated like in many other urban parts of Guatemala. Although people are quite friendly to us, long-time residents lament that the barrio’s not as tight-knit as it used to be. There are two Catholic churches, one traditional and the other charismatic. There are also three Protestant churches, and now a Presbyterian Church is under development.
La Libertad´s original name was Chib’ec B’al Cho’ch,’ Q’eqchi’ for “place where the earth sinks” because of underground caverns at one end of the community. For many years it was the site of several prosperous coffee plantations belonging to German immigrants who made the native Q’eqchi’ population work their fields. During World War II the Germans were expelled from Guatemala, and the land was gradually parceled out. Local leaders decided 45 years ago to change the barrio’s name, thinking that La Libertad was simpler and had a more positive connotation. The first highway from Cobán to the Petén ran through the barrio. During Guatemala´s civil war years, military convoys would ramble down 3rd Avenue toward distant rural areas in pursuit of insurgents. Today´s scene, however, is dominated by uniformed students and workers walking briskly to schools and jobs, delivery trucks swerving around potholes, and street venders in pursuit of customers.
Our family has been enriched by neighbors like Alberto Choc, a carpenter who´s faith is a blend of Mayan and Catholic traditions. He’s lived in La Libertad all his life and has kindly helped me understand its history. There´s Lencho Xol, a laborer at the Presbyterian Complex, which is under construction at the far end of 3rd Avenue. He and his wife, Aít, have become regulars in the Presbyterian congregation. This week they dropped off a rooster and 50 quetzals as a tithe. Then there´s Cristina Ca’al. She´s raising two small children on her own in a wooden room that she rents. We met her one week when thieves broke into her room and stole her belongings. Her son contracted pneumonia sleeping on the concrete floor, and was taken to the local hospital. Bacilia reached out to her, and Cristina accepted her invitation to Sunday worship. Soon our families bonded, and now she joins Bacilia on Saturdays to pass out flyers about the new Presbyterian congregation.
For the past month or so Bacilia and I have offered a Wednesday morning Bible study for the 6th grade at the La Libertad School. This past week we shared with the 60 students about how Jesus touched the sick, touched children, and touched lives in general. A discussion ensued about how God also calls us touch people for the better, and how we leave behind fingerprints of blessing whenever we do. We considered Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me,” and what it means to leave goodness in our wake as we journey through life. We ended with a project in which students were invited to place an ink fingerprint on a world map, indicating their desire to make a positive impact on others wherever they are. Several students mounted the map on the classroom wall to a round of applause. (See photos of the students and their map)
We love living in La Libertad and hope to learn much more about its history and people. Our prayer is that Christ will touch many lives here through the Presbyterian Church. May all who live in this barrio enjoy the grace that God offers so freely, and may we be free from all that might impede us from fully serving and praising God.