Sometimes it seemed like the day would never come, but at last it did! We praised the Lord in the new home of the Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) community. On Tuesday, Pastor Mateo, on behalf of the Franja Transversal Presbytery, and I traveled to the place where the 19 families have settled, where they’re legally entitled to live. For over ten years they were squatters on rocky fields with rancid water, having nowhere else to go. Now, by God’s grace, these Q’eqchi’ campesinos have relocated to 34 manzanas (about 59 acres) on a fertile hillside with natural springs, alongside the Chixoy River, with plenty of fish.
Dishonest legal wrangling was the biggest challenge. Over and over we’d met in attorney’s offices with the IENPG’s legal representative because the gun-toting landowner, Don Julian, kept reneging on signed contracts as well as his word, even after accepting a down payment and after Nueva Esperanza had taken apart their church, school and homes. At one point we wondered if we’d get back the down payment. Next a trusted elder disappeared with money that was donated to cover moving costs. Then as the community prepared to move to their new site, several elders and Mateo were forcibly held and threatened by a misinformed mob. But they never gave in, prayers never ceased, and Don Julian underwent a change of heart. To make amends, he even reduced his asking price by 25%, making the yearly payments more manageable. On Feb. 24, the 19 families carried what belongings they could to their new place and erected dwellings out of plastic tarps and poles. They had to leave behind most of their building materials, as well as their unharvested crops.
For me, getting there meant an uncomfortable four hours on bumpy, gravel roads. Twice the van overheated, and another time a downpour stopped us. Mateo and I then hiked to the river and took a launch across. Word had gotten out that the community had little food, so I brought 10 quintales (½ ton) of corn. The families received us with joyful excitement. Everybody gathered in the makeshift temple, constructed from branches and the village’s few sheets of lamina. Don Julian even showed up, all smiles, with an empty holster. A friendly representative of local campesinos came also, welcoming them and inviting them to join his organization.
The text for my message was Psalm 107:4-9: “Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lived ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for humankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”
Words of gratitude were expressed all around, including for the Presbytery of Denver that offered prayers and raised funds for the down payment and other needs. The clerk of the session said, “To all who’ve helped us through all this, we can’t repay you, but we ask God to give you more life and reward you for what you’ve done. We’re thankful from the bottom of our hearts to be in our new community with our families, very happy and proud to be persevering as children of God.” A loud, long cacophony of prayers was uttered that left us physically exhausted and spiritually elevated. Cheers and applause followed an announcement by Carlos, the lay worker, that the community’s new name will be Union Presbiteriana La Reforma (The Reformation Presbyterian Union). Afterwards we sat around a metal fuel container that served as a table, and enjoyed a celebration meal of tortillas, hot, traditional chicken soup, and coffee before our return journey.
Please keep this community in prayer. A lot of time and effort will be necessary to cultivate their first crops and build longer term housing. Final legal paperwork is scheduled to be signed on March 24. Then they’ll designate parcels for each family. Existing cardamom crops won’t be ready for harvest until August.