Wednesday, February 15, 2006

For Richer or Poorer

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother,
his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--
yes, even his own life--
he cannot be my disciple.”
(Luke 14:26)
Salomon and Mery Hernandez live extraordinary lives. Their journey was one of love, passion and sacrifice.[i] Jedd Medefind writes about this couple from first hand experience after spending time with them in Guatemala.

Even perched on a small stack of books, Salomon and Mery Hernandez would not reach most Americans’ shoulders. Gray now streaks once ebony hair, and wrinkles etch their faces. Their eyes, however, still cast sparks, dark and intense, and ready smiles offer unconditional welcome.

Salomon and Mery are Ladinos. Of the two distinct groups in Guatemalan society, the Ladinos are the majority – lighter skinned, Spanish-speaking, and generally more Western and well-to-do. On the other side of a vast social chasm are the indigenous Guatemalans, the Mayans. These sharp featured, dark skinned people are set apart not only by their culture and native language, but also by the poverty that dogs their existence.

Decades ago, when Salomon was working as a pastor, the gaping divide between Ladinos and Mayans began to gnaw at the young couple. Here they were, seeking to lead people to be disciples of Jesus, yet while the master they claimed to follow consistently slashed against such social barriers, their own church eagerly embraced them.

Together, the young couple decided hat Salomon would try to learn Quiche, a Mayan dialect others referred to with derision as “the language of the poor.” In fits and starts, his vocabulary grew. News began to spread among local Mayans of “the pastor who speaks Quiche.” First one Mayan, then others, appeared at the church. Some understood little Spanish, grasping only bits of Salomon’s messages. Still, the fact that he knew Quiche drew them. This man must care about us,” they whispered to each other, “he has learned our language.”

The Ladinos in the church were not nearly so impressed. Salomon and Mery could not help but notice the concerned glances cast at the newcomers. As time went on, the glances became glares of irritation and muttered complaints. Finally, a group broached the subject with Salomon directly. They explained, “We’re not sure it is best to have Mayans in our church. They have many diseases. It is not safe for our children. And their smell…”

Salomon gently pointed out whom they were supposed to be following. “Jesus continually served people Jews hated, the Samaritans,” he reminded. “And lepers, and tax collectors, even prostitutes.”

It was not long before the group was back, this time larger. “We have decided we must build a second church building,” and elder announced, “One for the Mayans, one for us.”

Again, Salomon resisted. “If we are going to follow Jesus, we need to grow together. We must learn to love and serve each other as a community,” he urged.

Not many were convinced. The ultimatum came a short time later. “Salomon, we will let you make a choice,” they offered, eyes cold. “You can either be our pastor, or you can serve the Mayans. Not both. The decision is up to you.”

Painful as it was, the path was clear. Salomon and Mery had chosen their course long before. Success was found in serving, and if they were to fail in that regard, little else mattered. Salomon would be their pastor no more.

Since that time, Salomon and Mery have spent much of their lives working with the Mayan people. Some Ladinos still think they are fools to stoop so low. But many Mayans claim they have had no better friends than Salomon and Mery Hernandez. And the giving has not been entirely one-sided. Mayan friends delight to invite Salomon and Mery into their homes and to their festivals, or to bring them corn from their fields or freshly-harvested melanga root and more than once during Guatemala’s bloody civil war, the couple was rescued from death at the hands of Mayan guerillas by friends they had served.

The Hernandezes will likely never receive a Nobel Prize or international recognition. Even most Guatemalans have never heard of them. But those who have spent time with them know Salomon and Mery have tasted real success. Their daily existence glows with deep and substantive relationships, lasting impact upon others’ lives, and a legacy of true service to the people around them.

Admittedly, our cravings and ambitions often pull us in the opposite direction. In addition, the buzzing world of commerce and celebrity rewards anything but this definition of success.

But still, our souls are stirred when we encounter it. Our hearts swell, if only for a moment, with desire to pursue such a path. Imagination, hope, and longing quicken. Emotions that have slept since childhood awake – we want to quest and serve and live for a vision larger than our own petty wants. Deep down, we know Jesus was right, and that the star to which he pointed is indeed the North Star.

How does a story like Salomon and Mery Hernandez affect you emotionally?

How does a person, like the Hernandezes, come the place of realizing the higher cause that God has called them to?

“The greatest tragedy of life is not death,
but life without reason.”

(Myles Munroe)

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished,
But by if God’s will is being accomplished through you.”

Dan Davidson

“There is no exercise better for the heart
than reaching down and lifting people up.”

[i] One can read more in depth about this couple in the book Four Souls: a search for epic life. There is a free online version at

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