Skip to content
Jun 4 / Bill

Reflections on a beloved, suffering country, Guatemala

A month ago I posted from Guatemala the second entry on this journal. I had finished a marvelous week at Seminario Teológico Centroamericano (SETECA) of relationships, friendships renewed and strengthened, global mission engagement, speaking, networking, growing, learning, exulting in the mature Latin mission movement……………and the delight of doing this all in Spanish–my preferred public speaking language (How is it that English is driven by the “indicative” but Spanish by the “subjunctive”? Ah a rich, nuanced linguistic difference).

El "profe" in his SETECA office, circa 1982

Wednesday of that week  I had made a sobering pastoral visit to a dear friend, former student at SETECA, Elsa Ramírez de Aguilar. For many years Elsa had served on the staff and faculty at SETECA. Hers is a complex story, but last year she was “relieved” of her work and plunged into the uncertainty of life in her fifties, a single mother with four young adult kids. Days later the doctors diagnosed a virulent cancer that decimated her dreams, her life, her future. I visited her in the public cancer hospital of Guatemala, a challenge in itself and light years away from private hospitals. My friend and colleague, David Ruíz, accompanied me…he’s a great pastor…and I knew he would strengthen me also. Most visitors were given 2 minutes, but her kids told us, “Stay as long as you wish.” We were there 20 minutes. It was a delight to see her and to talk with her. She so alert, keen, God-focused as only death does to us, aware of the very shortness of her life. We laughed, we shared life together. We prayed. We wept openly. Then we said goodbye. I knew this would be the last time I would see her this side of the Great True World. And two weeks later she slipped into eternity, permanently changing her address.

I flew home thanking God for Elsa, and praying for her kids. What would happen. She passed. They now grapple with the reality of life without this anchor woman.

But two weeks to the day of her funeral, my dear friend, another former student, Jaime Rodríguez, having just gotten some cash from an ATM in Guatemala City, was assaulted, robbed, shot, and killed. His brother in law, Ruben Guevara, another former student, was injured but lived.

As Oscar Arias, another dear friend on the faculty at SETECA, said to me:  “The Jaime situation was brutal, another painful case which is now our daily bread in this land of contrasts. Blood flows through the streets of this city and drains into the gutters that drink the fruit, amongst other things, of corruption and impunity.  The same, frustration and sadness upon sadness.”

Jaime, a leader in missionary training for Latins, leaves his dear widow, Arely (whose first husband died of cancer at a very young age), another former student (who had written her thesis for me, entitled “The church’s ministry to the widow”) and two young adult kids, both married. But who will provide for her?

Sadness upon sadness.

SETECA soccer team, July, 1975, with our "reina", Elsa, and the wee future soccer player, W. David O. Taylor, age 3

So I then found this photograph amongst the Taylor Visual Archives. It’s the SETECA soccer team, July, 1975. Yep, on the left is the dashing young profe, Guillermo Taylor, and a blond kid, or David circa age 3. Others in the picture. Our “queen”, center first row, none other than Elsa herself; second row, fifth from the right, Jaime himself.  The goalie, in white, Jere, Elsa’z estranged husband. All former students. All 35 years ago.

Some weeks ago I could have gazed at the photo and laughed with joy. Today I weep. I shall laugh some day.  But not today.

And then, last week, Guatemala was hit by a volcanic eruption. Pacaya explodes, just 15 miles south of where our family used to live in Guatemala. Ash covers the world and brings life to a halt. The international airport is slammed shut. As if that were not enough, the first tropical storm, Agatha, hits from the Pacific side, saturating this beautiful, mountainous nation, creating floods, sweeping communities into death.

No flights on AA out of Guatemala

Destruction--yet 7 years from now fantastic coffee. What?

The Boston Globe provides a graphic report, called “A rough week for Guatemala”,

Waiting for the triumph of Christus Victor, our Champion, and the defeat of all evil.

Mother of all Guatemalan sinkholes


leave a comment
  1. Alex Araujo / Jun 9 2010

    Hi Bill,
    It is good to read your feelings concerning Guatemala, and to see photos of your youth.

  2. Bill / Jun 10 2010

    And thanks to you, my good man, Alex. Your writing clarity has helped me try to do the same. Soon face to face at ANCC, Bill

  3. BJN / Jun 11 2010

    Thanks for sharing this, Bill. At some level I can relate to living in and loving a land that breaks your heart.

  4. Bill / Jun 17 2010

    And thanks to you, Brent. Yes, you surely can over the course of your international countries of residence, and especially now.

  5. Ismael Ramírez / Jul 6 2010

    Bill, thanks for sharing with the Christian community about your experiences both as a former “Guatemalan” and “profe” of all of us who were your students, and now your friends and colleagues. Thanks for sharing your feelings about Elsa, my sister, and Jaime, my cousin. Many blessings.

  6. Bill / Sep 29 2010

    Mil gracias, Isma, por tus palabras. Ha sido un peregrinaje tremendo, y no se ha acabado. Guillermo

  7. Joel Aguilar / Dec 14 2011


    Hasta ahora mi hermana me ha dado el link a esta entrada. Esta es la segunda navidad que paso sin Mi mama y el tío jaime. Ha sido un año duro. Después de dos años en EU regresé para trabajar en Guate. Los últimos seis meses han sido un peregrinaje al pasado para poder abrazarlo y moverme hacia el futuro. Gracias por tomarse el tiempo de reflexionar por el tío y mi mamá. Un abrazo.

  8. Bill / Mar 18 2013

    Mi querido Joel, Comienzo pidiendo perdón por no haberle escrito antes. Sucede que una larga serie de mensajes al blog no me llegaron hasta hoy. Cuénteme por correo electrónico lo que le ha pasado durante estos tiempos. Sigo sintiendo el dolor de la doble pérdida, sabiendo que lo que ustedes palpan es lo más profundo.

    Abrazo del alma,


Leave a Comment