Hello everyone! My name is Keith Anderson, and I attend Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, the same church that Pastor Kevin, well, pastors. I am part of the summer internship program he is leading. I think Kevin Cox and Pastor Kevin have already explained the background as to why we are blogging. And as for why I was in Guatemala, I believe Kevin already explained that one as well. But in case you missed his explanation, we were in Guatemala because my grandpa took Kevin, two of my brothers, our cousin Jonathan and myself on a trip to see his native country and to discover the legacy and impact our great-grandparents (missionaries with Central American Missions – CAM) had on the country.
I just want to share some of the lessons that I learned while on the trip. Two weeks in another country immersed in a foreign culture full of history can be very inspiring.
We know that man was made to work. That is a Biblical principle. But the Bible also tells us to spend our time working for the Kingdom of God. Well, the people of Guatemala are hard workers, and our guide even said that the Guatemalans are some of the best entrepreneurs in the world. But sometimes their work is misguided, especially when it comes to their ancestors, the Mayans. Since this trip was meant to be a “legacy discovery” type of trip, I think it’s also cool to see the various legacies of the various types of work done many years ago in Guatemala.
My great-grandparents were missionaries and translators for the Akateko Indian group, located in the San Miguel Acatan region of Guatemala. I say Indians because virtually all the inhabitants of the small mountain towns in the northwest corner of the country are descendents of the Mayans. Well, my great-grandparents translated the Bible into the Akateko dialect of the Mayan language group. While there, they saw very little fruit from their work. In fact, after they left, the guerrillas burned down their house. This is what’s left of their footprint on the land they lived on:
That’s the house they built (or rather what’s left of it). Overgrown, in ruins… Not real spectacular. But this is their footprint on the hearts of the people they worked with.
Even though my great-grandparents never really got to see the fruit of their labor firsthand, one can now point to the towns were over half the population consists of believers and churches with congregations numbering in the thousands as evidence of how God used my ancestors and others. Now, take a look at the physical footprint of the ancient Mayans:
Impressive, isn’t it? I tell you what, getting on those things is exhilarating! Just thinking about the incredible society that existed on and around these structures, picturing the battles that occurred as the Spanish armies poured over the surrounding mountains like the locusts descending on Egypt, and imagining the frantic (and gruesome) religious rituals that these structures were centered around is a lot to take in.
And that is the physical footprint of the ancient and revered society of the Mayans, considered a much greater success than my great-grandparents – by the world. The world compares the two physical footprints, a burned-down house versus half a continent of massive stone buildings, and judges the bigger physical impact as the bigger success. Wouldn’t you like to have a legacy as great as the Mayans?
Now let me show you a few more pictures of the Mayan legacy:
The picture I showed earlier of the gray pyramid is from Saculeo, a relatively small group of pyramids that a fruit company excavated and restored the temples (as our guide said, “They actually decided to pay for all the fruit they were removing from the country”). The second set of pics is what a relatively untouched pyramid looks like. It looks very similar to my great-grandparents house, doesn’t it (albeit just a hair larger)? But both structures are overgrown, falling apart and little more than historic sites.
And that picture of the round cement circle? That is part of the first pyramid I showed you, and its use [this is a bit graphic: just an FYI. I’ll give you some space to consider if you want to read it
…………………………………………………………………………………..…………….. don’t say I didn’t warn you] is to hold heads. *Gasp Really? See, these pyramids were not something that the Mayans built to sit around and stare at, even if that seems to be their only purpose today. Rather, just as the entire Mayan culture was built around religion, so their buildings were built with a religious purpose. Well, apparently, human victims were forced to scale the pyramid and were then sacrificed. Once decapitated, the head would fall from the dais above into the circle and not roll away.
Why did you just tell me that, you ask? Just to make you squirm… No, no, I just want to you to think about what the Mayans were really like. I think you’ll realize that these were not just some innocent group of people wandering half-naked around Central America that happened to throw together hundreds of massive structures and then disappear like good TV programming. They were a hard working society, highly advanced (although after that picture, you may not quite agree), and zealous in their religion. They made incredible achievements in various arts, constructed highly impressive tourist attractions, and created a calendar that has another “highly advanced” civilization (ahem, ours) going bonkers 1,000 years later because it simply stopped counting the days.
I mentioned the spiritual footprint of my great-grandparents, remember? The impact they had and continue to have vicariously through the believers they helped lead to the Lord was their footprint. Well, the Mayans have their own spiritual footprint. Their animistic beliefs (the idea that spirits indwell natural objects and that we ought to somehow appease them) have continued to “inspire” the fabled witch doctors of fairy tales and church missions conferences. In all seriousness, witch doctors do still exist. One town we passed, our guide told us, was, in essence, controlled by a witch doctor, and there was little to no success in reaching the inhabitants with the Gospel. And once a year, the witch doctors around San Miguel (my great-grandparents’ town) will take turkeys and sacrifice them along all the mountain peaks in the area.
Other contemporary Mayans still try and retain or return to the ways of their ancestors. Yearly dances are put on featuring costumes of various creatures and humans, in which the already poor participants pay a fortune for the opportunity to wear the costumes and dance around a fire. If one dances for three years, they are supposedly granted good fortune and wealth (to replace what was lost in the pursuit of such blessings).
And those are just a few toes of the spiritual footprint left by the Mayans. So let’s do some application, shall we? Because history has this funny thing about it where the same things happen repeatedly unless people learn the lessons each repeated situation has to offer. We’ll start with the physical footprint. Mayans made massive pyramids and other cool photo-hotspots. My great-grandparents built a house next to a stream that got burned down. One physically altered thousands of square miles of land, and the other only a couple-hundred square feet in a small mountain gorge. I think that even the world has the right answer here as to who had the bigger firsthand physical impact.
Now let’s compare the eternal footprint. The Mayans have a legacy of poor, disillusioned farmers that dance around fires to gain wealth and spiritualistic men who sacrifice turkeys on mountaintops to appease the wind. (You say ‘Well anything sounds stupid when you put it like that!’ Maybe, but I’ve just told it like it is. I could fluff it up to sound good, but then you’ve lost the true essence and picture of what actually occurs). My great-grandparents, on the other hand, have a legacy of vibrant, enthusiastic brothers and sisters who are now on a one way trip to heaven! They have purpose and a future.
My point is, that even though we may build up massive earthly empires, the size of our physical footprint has little eternal value. The world will applaud us, but we’ll only be able to show them a house and maybe a car or seven. And these pictures show us what happens to physical accomplishments. 2 Peter says it’s all going to burn eventually anyhow. Then there’s the eternal footprint, the impact you have on the lives of the people around you and the treasures stored up in God’s kingdom where rust doesn’t rust and moths don’t eat your things and the jungle doesn’t hide your accomplishments in Jesus.
Which direction do your footprints lead?