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Alabama Baptist teams find Guatemalans waiting expectantly for gospel, missionary sayscomment (0)

January 4, 2007

By Grace Thornton

Eight out of eight Alabama Baptist volunteers agree — suitcases with wheels were created for Guatemala.

Though the walk through the Guatemala City airport from the gate to the parking lot outside is mere feet, making it happen takes effort. The eight volunteers pull their luggage at a snail’s pace through walkways packed wall-to-wall with Guatemalans pressed in shoulder to shoulder.

With expectant faces, the Guatemalans study the crowd entering their country.

And they wait.

The volunteers find that with the wheels bearing the burden, the walk through Guatemala’s eager masses is relaxed in its pace. People-watching is the new pastime — else a volunteer could easily step on several.

At the front of the crowd, young children hold roses and grin timidly at the volunteers’ lingering Southern accents. They stare at the white faces with smiling eyes that say, "bienvenidos" — welcome.

But their eyes don’t linger long — all continue to look just beyond the team for someone, the someone for whom they hold the roses.

"Who are you waiting for?" one of the volunteers asked them.

None answer him but an arm further back in the crowd pops straight up above everyone’s head with a video camera, ready to capture a glimpse of the rose recipient.

"Are they waiting for a celebrity? Who is coming here today?" another volunteer asked Laurelle Stoudenmire, who along with her husband, Allen, serves as an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary to Guatemala.

"No one particular," she answered as the last few volunteers disentangle themselves from the masses.

"No celebrities?"

"No, no celebrities — no one particular anyway. This is Guatemala. This is every day. They’re always waiting on somebody."

Though an oddity, it’s an observation that’s welcome news to the team members, all of whom are there for one purpose — to introduce Guatemalans to the Somebody for whom they wait.

Most of them know His name already — the majority of Guatemala’s population claims some form of Catholicism by tradition. But many of those don’t know Jesus Christ personally.

Vilma Amada Santos Rosales was one of those until someone introduced her to Him.

"At the Catholic church I went to, everyone would just come and sit and sleep," she said with a laugh.

But then her smile fades — she’s suddenly serious. "I would never have known the way if someone had not shown me," she said.

That’s why she takes her job as a translator for IMB missionaries to heart. She and her sister Elizabeth share their faith fervently with their Guatemalan neighbors as they go door to door with Baptist teams from the United States.

Their sincerity when coupled with the personal visit of Baptist volunteers from Alabama concocts a combination that’s many times irresistible for Guatemalans, a people ready for something real.

The Guatemalan people — nearly 13 million strong — live amid the striking beauty of a country overflowing with coffee beans, bright flowers and active volcanoes. But the rich beauty doesn’t match the extreme poverty in which many Guatemalans in rural regions are trapped. And it doesn’t seem meant to play host to the crime that rips apart many neighborhoods deep in urban areas.

"I love my country and I love the people in it," said Carlos Lemus, Hispanic missionary to Alabama’s Autauga and Chilton Baptist associations and formerly a pastor in Guatemala. "But I don’t like the social problems — poverty, corruption in government, etc."

It’s a nation full of people just waiting to be rescued — people like Julio Lizama Perez.

Perez was one who was saved in the middle of a hotbed of social problems.

The 23-year-old soccer player, though tall and tough, has to make sure he doesn’t ride the bus into or out of his neighborhood after 6 p.m. — it’s too dangerous. And he knows the heartache that comes from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Awhile back in a rough area of town, Perez’s best friend was shot in a gang crossfire as the two were walking back from eating pizza. He died in Perez’s arms as Perez screamed for help from the people huddled all around.

No one helped.

After the shooting, he realized he wanted things to change.

Perez, who learned English from watching English TV programs with Spanish subtitles, got a job working as a translator for IMB missionaries.

He was introduced to Christ by Laurelle Stoudenmire and a team of Alabama Baptists a few months ago.

"She told me that God wanted to take my hand and help me through the hard things and help my family," Perez said. "I had never heard it that way before."

She asked him if he wanted to accept Christ, and he prayed right there in the van.

Now his days are spent traveling with missions teams and trying to set an example for his younger siblings and niece.

"They used to say, ‘Julio, I want to be like you. You’re tough and no one messes with you.’ I thought, ‘No, that’s not the way their life should be.’ They shouldn’t have to do what I’ve done and go through what I’ve gone through," Perez said.

Because Alabama Baptists came when he cried out for a change, his life and his family’s life are now different — they have hope.

"People here will never forget your name, even if you never know who they are. You help them, you change their life and they will remember you always."

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