By Dwayne Janke
Choking with emotion, José Alberto takes off his hat and buries his face in it as he weeps. It becomes a make-shift handkerchief to absorb his tears.
José is recalling one of the darkest periods of his life as a pastor among the Central Mam people of Guatemala. It was a time when his little congregation in the village of Tuijala dismissed him as their pastor—for preaching the truth.
In 2004, José learned how to read and write Mam, which allowed him to preach directly from the New Testament in his mother tongue. His wife Fabiana helps tell the story.
“All I can say is before we knew how to read and write, we often preached from the Bible according to our understanding,” she says. “Being able to read and write, we understood that what we were sometimes preaching was not correct. For example, we’ve learned that… a person who [deliberately and routinely] plans to sin is not a Christian and hasn’t changed, although there are lots of times that we do things and then we realize that it is wrong. And God forgives that when we repent.”
As José preached with clarity for the first time in Mam, his flock felt overwhelmed by the new teaching. They got so angry they expelled him.
“Many, many, many times we prayed in the house,” adds Fabiana, speaking of those dark days. Her comment brings her husband to tears.
When José collects himself, he picks up the story. “The group got mad and kept me away from preaching for three years,” he says.
But as a local literacy ministry opened the Mam Scriptures to more people, José’s former congregation realized their error.
“After three years, they came down to my house and they asked for forgiveness for having prohibited me from preaching. They said, ‘We were wrong. You don’t preach like some other pastors, but you tell the truth.’”
José was reinstated as pastor, and currently ministers to a house church of seventy. He is also a literacy teacher to his people, knowing first-hand how it has impacted him personally.
“Before my mind was closed, and now my mind is opened,” he says of the change that literacy helped bring about. “It’s like opening up a road for me. I continue to go down that same road, and it gets wider. I understand more and more. I read the Bible two hours every morning, and two hours in the afternoon, and two hours at night.
“The result is that I’m at peace. I’m content,” he concludes. “In my life, everything’s changed. Nothing is the same. I’m a totally different person now.”