The Paraclete Comes to Guatemala City

“He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.”
– John 16:14-15a

Last week in Guatemala City, the work of the Holy Spirit as described by Jesus in John 16 was brought to life in vivid texture amidst a senseless tragedy. Blanca Gomez, loving mother of eight, descended the path into the densely inhabited ravine known as “La Limonada” to bring some lunch to her son. She was caught in the crossfire of two rival gangs and died from multiple gun shot wounds the next day on the operating table.

Pastor Erwin “Shorty” Luna had served as pastor to Blanca and her children for the past several years, and news of her violent and senseless death devastated him.He was so distraught that he himself was admitted to the hospital emergency room with serious respiratory problems. Released after a few hours of care, Shorty would go on to bear the most concrete image of the Paraclete – the Advocate – that I have ever witnessed.

“In Guatemala, even the dead have to wait in line.”
– Pastor Erwin “Shorty” Luna

The day of Blanca’s funeral, there was such a long line at the morgue from people who had died over the weekend that Blanca’s family had to wait in line to receive her body before preparing the internment.

I arrived at the cemetery only to enter the chaos of seven simultaneous funeral processions all lined up and waiting to enter the same small corridor where the caskets would be inserted into the rectangular holes that lined both sides of the walls. I made my way through the throngs of mourners in line around their respective caskets looking for Pastor Shorty and Blanca’s family and friends.

What I discovered will forever be etched into my mind as an image of the way Jesus described the work of the Holy Spirit in John 16. Near the end of Jesus’s life he promises his disciples that while he will not be with them much longer, he will be sending to them the “paraclete.” The Greek word Parakletos is translated from the Greek as “advocate,” “helper,” “comforter” or “intercessor.”

The idea of Jesus’s departure no doubt sparked fear and anxiety into the hearts of the disciples, but in this week’s lectionary passage Jesus promises the presence of His Spirit in another who will be sent.

In the middle of mourning and the wailing of children calling out for the mother who would never again respond to their cries, I saw Pastor Shorty at the head of Blanca’s casket with his arms around the wailing children, crying with them and taking turns holding them up against his broad chest. He said nothing, preached no sermon, read no Scripture. He was just there, and it was obvious to all that his presence was what made all the difference.

Jesus tells his disciples that they need not despair his impending death, for the work of the paraclete who is to come will be to testify by the side of victims, to be their advocate, and to expose that which is wrong.

For the children of Blanca Gomez this week, the “paraclete,” that divine voice of God’s unrelenting presence, was made tangible in the person of Pastor Erwin “Shorty” Luna.

Michael Hardin writes in his book The Jesus Driven Life, “if the Satanic is the human religious impulse toward scapegoating, using violence to cast out violence, then the work of the Spirit (Paraclete) is to defend the victim of unjust persecution, expose the victimizer’s lies and vindicate the victim. The paraclete is directly opposed to Satan. The paraclete will prove the world wrong about judgment, because the prince of this world, Satan, has been condemned. It is the sacrificial process that is on trial, the accuser who is accused.”

As I watched in reverence and deep respect the pastoral ministry of my friend Shorty in the midst of grief this past week, I was struck not only by his presence as balm of healing for wailing children – but also as a deep conviction to the shirtless shooters and their fellow gang members, some of whom had attended the services prior to the internment, and others of whom now looked down upon the scene from atop the corridors.

I have long thought of the Paraclete as a “defense attorney.” But this week I realized that Shorty’s presence with this family was an artful dance of Gospel subversion. His posture in the midst of the injustice in no way felt like a traditional word-centered tirade of defense. Instead, it was a subversive, marked presence that simultaneously offered deep comfort to the victims and deep conviction to the victimizers, both of whom were present. And all that without saying a word.

Peace,
Joel Van Dyke
Street Psalms Latin America