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Self-Reliance, Guatemalan Style

Thursday, October 19, 1989, San Felipe, Guatemala

I feel confused by my own expectations. What I fear more than anything else is that I am going back to the way I was, and that when I get home I will be more or less the same [as I was before]—a weak addict to technology, and a sensationalist. I despise those attitudes now, but I fear that they are still part of me, and will come naturally when I get back. After all, I’m going to be immersed in it all again. That is the way life is there.

I need time to think. But there is no time.

It is morning here. The sun is coming through the white curtains and the room is filled with soft, yellow light…. I just want to learn always to keep life uncluttered.


I’m still haunted by those lines, written just days before I was to return home from my service in the Guatemala, Quetzaltenango mission. I had come to Guatemala the way most Gringos do, from a life of relative suburban ease. I had had my own room, TV, stereo, and piles of recordings and videos. I had ambitions one day of going into film production. But what I found, unexpectedly, in Guatemala was a summons to a more elemental existence: to water and soil, rain and sun; to the natural rhythms of day and night; to the oscillating sounds of corn ground on stone, of hands clapping out tortillas above a little fire, of clothes swashed back and forth on riverside stones; and to a confrontation with my fear of death.

A missionary was killed in my mission the week I arrived, taken out by a drunken driver on the tight, walled-in streets of Xela. I was asked by our president to give the closing prayer (in my brand new, pathetic Spanish) to close the Zone conference in which this death was announced.

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