This past weekend, April 27-29, I found myself racing from one side of Guatemala to the next. On Friday I joined a team of 14 men, women and youth from Guatemala City’s Central Presbyterian Church for the lengthy trip to Chajul, one of the church’s mission congregations. Chajul is an Ixil town in the Department of Quiché, where 75% of the population struggles with malnutrition and diseases that shouldn’t be difficult to prevent. The mission included a pediatric clinic, leadership training, 11 baptisms, Holy Communion, a wedding, and a visit to a new church development. My job was to perform the baptisms on Saturday morning. Afterward that, I had to hop on a series of busses and taxis back to Guatemala City where I was scheduled to preach on Sunday. (Photos: Two of the baptisms, Dr. Suk Rosal with a young patient, Anay Ortega distributing vitamins. Thanks to Anay for these photos!)
I preached at the morning services at the Central church on the 23rd Psalm. The theme was about dwelling and following. As our shepherd, sometimes God calls upon us to dwell somewhere for a prolonged period. God provides the needed conditions for us to stay put in that place—food, water, harmony with the rest of the flock, even security amidst adversaries.
Other times, God calls us to not to stay, but rather to follow him elsewhere. God guides us into to a new purpose or a different way of life. We might find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death, and God seeks to lead us to a better set of circumstances.
During the gold rush to California in 1849, a train of 100 covered wagons tried to find a shortcut through a desert valley. It was a bad mistake, because they were stuck there for weeks, forced to slaughter their oxen for food, and burn some of their wagons for fuel. Eventually they abandoned everything, and together they found a way out on foot. As they escaped, one of the women turned around and exclaimed, “Goodbye, valley of death!” The name stuck, and the desert became known as Death Valley. It’s one of the lowest, driest, and hottest places on earth.
Like a good shepherd, God is constantly at work, showing us the way out of the predicaments into which we’ve stumbled. God will guide us out of life’s low places, if we’re willing to follow. And as the grace of God grace brings us to someplace better, we can say with a sigh of relief, “Goodbye, valley of death! So long, valley of heavy burdens! Adios, valley of chaos and frustrated dreams!”
Then we can say, with grateful hearts, “Hello, land of promise and peace! Hello, land of abundance and blessing!”
The good news is that, wherever we are in life, God dwells with us. Whether we’re in a valley or on a mountain top, God watches over us. As we learn to follow the Lord, we notice that the Lord’s goodness and mercy are following us. And as we move forward, our hearts are still with those who are behind. They’re not forgotten by God, and they shouldn’t be forgotten by us. Perhaps we’re called to go and look for them, to encourage them to follow God’s lead, so that they too may come to a better place.