Thursday, December 24, 2015

Brightest and Best, Lessons from an Old Christmas Hymn

“Brightest and best of the sons of the morning; Lord of our darkness and lend us thine aid. Star of the East the horizon aborning; Guide where our infant redeemer is laid…”

It’s an old hymn of Christmas that we learned via a more contemporary arrangement. Through the years the poignancy of the poetic verse has held special meaning for us in so many of our life’s adventures. This year was no exception. Strange as it may seem, this year’s “Brightest and Best” adventure started with the bright and warm sun of the Central American country of Belize.

Richard and Debbie in Belize City for a 'visa vacation'
They’re often referred to in the mission worker community as ‘visa vacations’. For those of us working in Guatemala on a tourist visa, after six months in the country (following a 90-day renewal) we are required to leave the country for at least three days, after which we get a stamp in our passport and the cycle starts over again. For our most recent visa vacation, we traveled to Belize City where we stayed by the ocean, took many long walks, and enjoyed the local cuisine. In researching our trip to Belize, we failed to discover that our Guatemalan phones would not work once we crossed the international border. Though many of our younger Guatemalan contacts are comfortable with email and social media as a means of communication, our older friends (read: from our generation) are more comfortable communicating via phone. So, it was via the hotel’s Wi-Fi connection we received a note from the son of one of our contemporaries informing us about his dad. “My father has been trying to call you but hasn’t been able to get through. He wants you to know that while he was doing some work at the church center he punctured his leg on a wire. Because of his diabetes, the wound has not been healing and now there’s an infection. He’s laid up at home now. The doctor at the clinic said that if they can’t get the infection under control, he could lose his foot. He’s hoping he can get in touch with you so that you can ask his partners in the US to pray for him.”

Julian Ico
His name is Julian Ico. He’s been a fixture in the indigenous communities of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church for longer than we can remember. His involvement in his local church as pastor, his involvement in his local Q'eqchí Polochic presbytery as secretary, and his work with several church-wide committees has earned him a reputation as a solid leader and faithful disciple among his indigenous counterparts and non-indigenous friends in Guatemala, the US, and Canada. It didn’t seem to appear to him that his network of North American contacts might represent available resources to get him access to medical care that otherwise would be outside of his financial reach. His message to me was to contact the people he knows in North America to ask for prayers for his healing. So, from our hotel by the sea, we sent a message out to Julian’s partners and friends.

“Say shall we offer some costly devotion; Odors of Edom and offerings divine? Gems from the mountain and pearls from the ocean; Myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?"

Crossing back into Guatemala, the bars on our phones lit up once again and we placed a call to Julian. He sounded pretty bad. We told him that we had gotten the word out and that his friends were praying for him. “Gracias hermano, muchas gracias”, he kept saying. We also told him that there were sure to be people amongst his friends who will feel led to provide him with some help in getting some medical attention. “What would the cost be for you to come to the city and visit the clinic here?” He had no idea. He didn’t see that as an option. He was asking for prayer, not for money. He told me he would check into it and get back to me. Several days later, after checking with the local health center, he gave me the list of tests he should have and the possible medications he might need.
Maria in our backyard garden
Julian in his new running shoes
Indeed his partners and friends did respond. And after several failed attempts to get Julian transported from his village to Cobán, he arrived with his wife Maria to stay with us while he visited the clinic. He had consultations and tests surrounding his diabetes, his infected foot and resulting leg pain, as well as consultation for stomach pain (later diagnosed as kidney stones). After the consultations, blood tests, ultrasounds, and more consultations, Julian was prescribed several different internal and topical medications. His doctor also suggested some different shoes that might offer some cushioning for his leg and would not interfere with the wound on his foot. So, after a visit to the local running shoe store, he had a flashy pair of running shoes to compliment his other treatments. Though thinner and weaker than we’ve ever seen him, he was in good spirits as they prepared to return home.

"Vainly we offer each ample oblation. Vainly with gifts would his favor secure. Richer by far is the heart’s adoration. Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor."

Julian and family around our breakfast table
The time in our home passed by all too quickly; and as we sat around the breakfast table before heading to the bus for home, Julian and Maria (through Julian’s translation as Maria speaks only her native Q'eqchí language) took turns thanking us for our hospitality and asking us to be sure and contact everyone in order to thank them for their generosity in support of his healing. Then we prayed together. Julian in Spanish, Maria in Q'eqchí; lifting their voices with a humility and gratitude that comes from people who know what it is to depend entirely on God for everything in their lives. The prayer brought a new and profound meaning to the last sentence of that old hymn.

In sharing this old hymn and this new story we share Julian’s, as well as our thanks to you for your part in this unfolding miracle. Many of you had the opportunity to pray for Julian and to support him in his healing process. Many of you pray for us, read our post, visit and communicate with us, and support us in our work here. Your faces and names were in our thoughts as Julian prayed for us and for you. Truly, “Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.”

The blessings of Christmas to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

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