I shared Concepcion’s story with those in worship this past Sunday and share it again with some reluctance. It is a privilege and a burden even to know the story. The privilege came a week ago yesterday in a little village in Guatemala, the burden is to be borne for a long time.
The pastor of the church hosting our mission team medical clinic in the village had told us just the sketchy outline of the story and then an hour or so later he arranged for Dr. Dave Schaebler and I to meet Concepcion and her family.
A somber stillness filled the room. Concepcion, fifteen years old and stoic. With her were her three sisters, ages one, four and eleven, her aunt, Francisca, and her grandmother, Concepcion, whose name she bears.
On November 29, 2015, three months ago, the four girls were asleep in the small home they shared with their mother and father, Marvela and Antonio, well-respected members of the community and a deaconess and deacon in the church. During the night at least two men broke into the house and attacked the family with machetes, killing Antonio and Marvela. They hacked off four fingers from the left hand of Concepcion, leaving only her thumb. The machete also grazed her right temple, an ugly wound now giving witness to the savagery of the attack. The other children were not physically harmed.
The attackers have not been identified or found and the motive for their butchery is not known. Some in the community speculate that it may have been a case of mistaken identity, others wonder is Antonio, a street vender in a nearby town, may have crossed evil men with his honesty and integrity. No one knows.
Dr. Schaebler looked at the wounds on Concepcion’s hand and face and said they seem to be healing well enough. The wounds to the hearts and minds of the four girls, their aunt, and their grandmother seem hardly to have begun to heal at all.
Dave and I met with Concepcion in order to tell her story. The privilege of the meeting was intense, a holy time about which one is reluctant to speak. Our words of comfort and the words of our prayers were dwarfed by the enormity of the aftermath of this evil.
But we were asked to tell the story, because the story and its reality three months later is more than the village, the church, or its pastor are able to carry alone.
Concepcion and her sisters have left the house where the massacre occurred and are staying with and being cared for by their widowed grandmother and their aunt, who has a family of her own. There is an immediate need for food. Grandmother Concepcion does not have the means to feed four more mouths.
God has already provided a way for food to be gotten to the widow and her wards. Through the Geneseret clinic in San Lucas Toliman that LPC helps supports with our mission partner Promised Land Ministries, we have already arranged for a monthly allotment of basic food stuffs sufficient for their need to be delivered to the family. We will need to assure the funds necessary to continue that food delivery.
In time, Concepcion and her 11-year old sister will return to school. There are no free schools in Guatemala. Later the younger girls will enroll, as well. Through Plan Padrino, PLM’s child sponsorship program, we should be able to guarantee the payment of fees and the purchase of uniforms and essenital supplies.
The Geneseret Clinic will provided continuing health checks for the girls, looking for signs of physical well-being in the months after the attack.
By the providence of God, we are able to respond quickly to the initial needs of Concepcion and her family. Already so many LPC people have asked what they might do. Yes, we will need those additional Plan Padrino sponsorships – thanks to those of you who already support 130 Guatemalan students. One of the most important thing any of us can do is keep our regular pledged and Lord’s Day giving current. That faithful giving allows our Mission Committee to respond generously and quickly when needs arise.
Concepcion and her family will undoubtedly have additional needs that we might help meet. We don’t know them now, but will keep you informed.
Of course, we must pray. In season and out we must pray. We must pray for God’s healing and hope in the lives of Concepcion and her sisters, her aunt and her grandmother, those in the village and church. Pray intentionally, specifically, and regularly. Remember to pray.
That time with Concepcion and her family was a privilege, a sacred moment. Also a burden. God has asked Langhorne Presbyterian Church to gently, quietly, faithfully enter this story that he might use us for his good purposes. We will not shirk our responsibility.
Concepcion’s story is a story told a thousand times over in our world; in Central America and the Middle East, East Africa and North Philadelphia. As citizens, voters, church members, we must not waiver from the narrow and hard way of God’s peace and justice and hope. We dare not turn from the cross. In this terrifying season of the demagogue among us, we must reject the politics of hate and division no matter what the cause or issue.
Concepcion’s story reminds us that we must be Christians.