Eight hours north of Guatemala City is a town called Fray. Near Fray is the remote village of Maguila, which does not appear on most Guatemalan maps. Simply getting to Maguila requires a 25-minute car ride on dirt roads or a 50-minute walk through the rugged terrain.
Our group arrived at the village earlier in 2013 on a rented school bus anticipating great things. At the same time, we had no idea what to expect.
I made the journey as a representative of the Mesoamerica Region, a team assistant for evangelism ministries and the 'official interpreter' for the group from Rock Island, Illinois, First Church of the Nazarene. But it was not until we got to Maguila that I realized I would not be the only interpreter on duty. We learned that most of the villagers did not speak Spanish but rather, a Mayan dialect called Q?eqchi. Thus, almost any communication between the villagers and the team required double interpretation, to make sure communication could flow between the groups.
In my first attempt to find children who could understand me and serve as our 'tour guides' around the community, a young girl named Margarita showed up. At just 11 years of age, Margarita seemed assertive and unafraid. As I become acquainted with my new young friend, I asked her to show me around her village. I had brought an EvangeCube with me, an evangelism tool that teams often use on JESUS Film Harvest Partner trips.
While we walked, I gave Margarita a brief tutorial on how to use the EvangeCube. She watched in fascination, then immediately took the cube out of my hands and began to travel house-to-house, sharing the story of Jesus with her family and friends. I had come to 'evangelize' and to 'minister' to these people, but to my surprise, Margarita was the one evangelizing and ministering instead.
During one of our house visits, I met Pastor Roberto Alvarado from the Nazarene church in Maguila who had also come to invite folks to attend the JESUS Film showing that evening. As we talked, he told me the story of how the church had begun in Maguila.
Having been a member of the Fray church for several years, Pastor Roberto began to feel the call to minister in Maguila, where there was no church at the time. After spending a few weeks evangelizing door-to-door, Pastor Roberto passionately preached his first sermon in the open air. But out of the many who attended, only three children accepted the Lord. Undeterred, he began to teach those three children about the Scripture and worship. One of those children was Margarita, who in such a short time had become an invaluable disciple of Jesus Christ and learned many songs of faith so she could lead the singing.
The pastor continued sharing that when the church in Fray heard that there was a group from the U.S. who wanted to show the JESUS Film in a village in Guatemala, they were overjoyed. 'We have to build a church!' they exclaimed. 'After people learn about Christ through the JESUS Film, they will need a place to come and worship him!' So for the next six months the church bought wood and supplies and began to build their daughter-church in Maguila.
As I listened to the pastor's story, a phrase I had learned in seminary came to mind: preparatio evangelica (preparation for the gospel). Before we arrive on any mission field, God is already at work. The missio Dei (mission of God) starts with God's invitation to participate in his own work.
As I was still pondering this, Margarita interrupted my thoughts. 'Vamos a otra casa! (Let's go to another house!)' She was eager to keep inviting folks to the film and continue sharing the gospel with the EvangeCube. But after four or five visits in the scorching heat, I was ready for a break. Because of her persistence, however, I agreed to do one more. It was her brother's house.
'He's not a Christian,' she shared, 'and he doesn?t like it when I talk about Jesus, but I?m praying for him so he can accept Jesus, too.' After she finished sharing the gospel with her brother, she invited him to come to the JESUS Film showing that night.
On our way back to the church, Margarita, the youngest in her family, told me that her mother did not like the fact that Margarita attended this church. 'But even though my mother doesn?t agree,' she confessed, 'I cannot go against what my heart tells me. And my heart tells me I must follow him.'
That evening, almost eight months after Pastor Roberto's first service, over 400 people showed up to watch the JESUS Film. And standing out prominently among the crowd was Margarita's family: her mother, her seven sisters, and her brother, along with his entire family.
Throughout that week, we celebrated the work of God in the lives of the Maguilan people. A good number came to the Lord, and others recommitted their lives to him. And as a result, the pastor finally had enough to organize a church. On our final evening, District Superintendent Cesar Juárez invited Richard Barriger, the leader of our team and pastor of the Rock Island church, to cut the ribbon while the people marched and sang a gospel song in three different languages.
As we were preparing to say our good byes the following morning, I asked Margarita what she wanted to do when she grew up. Without a moment's hesitation she declared: 'I want to teach the Bible!' 'Well,' I replied, 'stay committed to the Lord and to this church, and you will have plenty of opportunities to do just that.'
As I reflected on our experience during our eight-hour bus ride back to Guatemala City, I recalled a story about a pastor who was asked how many people had received the Lord during an evening service. 'One and a half,' the pastor quickly replied. Someone asked, 'One and a half?' 'Yes, one and a half,' the pastor continued. 'One child and half an adult. The adult has already lived half his life. But the child has her entire life ahead of her to impact the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.'
The power of a child who has come to know Christ cannot be underestimated. Jesus said it well: 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these' (Luke 18:16). In a little Guatemalan village undetectable on any map, there is a little girl to whom the kingdom belongs. Thanks be to God!
Simone Mulieri Twibell and her husband, Andrew, are lead pastors at Grace Community Church of the Nazarene in Nicholasville, Kentucky.