A two-hour drive through the mountainous countryside brought us to Huehuetenango so John Batchelor could preach at the surprise 50th birthday service for Pastor Isai Martinez at Palabra de Vida (Word of Life). We passed through swarms of buses, motos, tuk-tuks, and pedestrians, each going their own way – right through everyone else’s own way.
Dump sites on the sides of the road became gold mines for people searching for anything they could sell. To my left, flocks of sheep wandered about in front of terra cotta cottages; to my right, three men filing up the mountain path, shovels over their shoulders, glad to be finished with the day’s farming. And all around, loads of laundry hanging next to tiendas painted with Partido Lider election propaganda, villagers waiting on the bus to go into town, men carrying heavy loads of firewood or whatever else would fit on their backs to sell in the market.
It was dusk when we left the Hotel California for the church. All around us twinkled fireflies of lights on the Sierras de los Chucumatanes, the highest mountain range in all of Central America. They reminded me of El Paso, Texas at night, these formidable majesties lording over the Maya people below, sentinels of the valley who have guarded its secrets and echoed its shouts for thousands of years.
Just past these mountains? Chiapas, Mexico, land of rainforests…and war. But in this place, a city on a hill, a beacon of hope.
Isai’s birthday service was a Polaroid glimpse into the life of a healthy church. The way he and his wife, Bris, loved on everyone there and the way that love was reciprocated was just how I imagine the early Church would have been. Afterwards, we sat and ate tamales and cake while Isai told us his story.
Isai was a math teacher for 20 years before becoming a pastor. He became a teacher because he had had a terrible math teacher in school, and he wanted to do things differently. He wanted to be the teacher who captivated his students, showed them new ways to learn complex concepts, and directed them toward Christ. After 20 years of teaching, he became the youngest to retire from his school, and he entered pastoral ministry full-time. Now, he translates skills he mastered from teaching to sharing God’s Word in ways the people can understand. A part of his legacy now is that a number of his former students are active members in his church and ardent lovers of Jesus.
That night, deep in the heart of the Chucumatanes, firefly beacons and the heart of the Maya still beating all around us, we saw a lamb with a lion’s heart whose life’s desire to see others meet Jesus has left a line of many other sheep who now follow their true Pastor, or Shepherd. All because one man heard His voice and said, “Yes”.