The face of Christ in any culture

The bell tower of the 19th-century church in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala, rose majestically against the light blue sky, like a postcard ready to send. It was dawn, and the sun announced its arrival with pastel rays. Wrapped in a thick blanket, half asleep, contemplating the beautiful scenery, I understood why people called the town magical.

I took a deep breath. The weather was freezing, colder than Nicaragua, my homeland. As I fixed my gaze on the mountains around me, one caught my attention: the mountain with the silhouette of a face. 

The night before, I had toured the town and heard about the Mayan Face. A local told us, “It has the silhouette of the nose, the chin and also the forehead.” Remembering the visual game of the old woman who turns out to be a young woman, I convinced myself that yes, indeed, I was seeing the face of a person.

That morning I did the exercise again with my newly awakened brain and contemplated the Mayan Face. To my eye, it became the face of a woman. It became the face of all the Indigenous women I had seen, with colorful costumes and beautiful braided hair. They were, for me, the face of Guatemala — a country exotic to many, rich but also, like the distant mountain, inaccessible for Indigenous people in poverty.

In San Juan La Laguna, there is a predominance of Quiché-speaking Indigenous peoples. They prefer to communicate in their own language, though they cannot write it. They know Spanish because they learn it in school. The racist and colonialist system of Western education is not interested in native languages. Spanish is the rule. English is the prestige. The native language is an affront.

Women, men and their sons and daughters get up every morning to grind coffee, make their plots grow, walk along roads with no access to the mountains and think about how to get out of poverty. 

Poverty cannot be romanticized. We cannot continue to admire our native peoples only in museums or in the stores of Antigua Guatemala, where their products are bought for hundreds of dollars, while in the streets Indigenous women are discriminated against, violated and submerged in extreme poverty. 

What is our role as communities of faith with our Indigenous communities? Is the gospel message Christ- centered? Or is it colonialist, imposing “Western values” with clothing and music? 

The gospel brought by evangelical missions, including Anabaptists, shared the message of hope. But it also brought cultural patterns that did not meet the culture of native peoples. 

Do our native peoples also deserve to worship in their own language, with their own customs and their own vision of Jesus? Can we speak of a Christ incarnated in the culture of the people?

I think Jesus’ answer would be simple: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Our Indigenous communities deserve respect, love and, above all, inclusion in our vision of Christianity. 

“We are all different but equal in rights,” says a campaign I learned about from an organization that works with Indigenous communities in Guatemala.

The proposition that Jesus became incarnate not only in humanity but also in our culture — every culture — is an idea that has already been in the theological debate. 

In the online journal Protestante Digital, Bene Studere says, “The Word did not identify less with women than with men. Jesus was neither black African nor white European, but in his specific identity as a Near Eastern Semite, in an authentic human life of total depth, he identified himself fully with the blacks, with the whites and with the indigenous people of our lands.” 

Studere concludes that the incarnation of Jesus is the example of cultural authenticity for God’s people in every place and every age. 

The Mayan Christian should not be less Mayan for being Christian but “the most Mayan of the Mayas.” The same is true for Quichua, Quechua, Aymara and any other ethnic group. We see the face of Christ in any culture.  

Wendy Vado

Wendy Vado (34) Nicaragüense. Estudió filología y comunicación social en la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua. Le gusta escribir y Read More

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