Sunday, May 29, 2011


God brought me through the end of my medical school career today as I graduated from Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Now, by His grace, I will cling to Him as I make my way through residency.

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. - 2 Thessalonians 3:3

Friday, May 27, 2011

Loma Linda Hooding Ceremony Prayer

I was honored to be asked to do the invocation for my medical school class' hooding ceremony tonight, a couple of days before our graduation on Sunday. Here is what I wrote and prayed:

Almighty God, we gather before you tonight a people full of gratitude for the many gifts You have bestowed upon us throughout these years of medical school. All good and perfect gifts come down from you, the Father of lights, and you have given us these gifts in sustaining us through many trials and many joys. You have imparted to us a great amount of knowledge and skill through the work of the teachers with whom you have blessed us here and for that we are ever-grateful.

As we begin our practice as physicians make us into doctors who would look to the example of Christ. Let us remember that He came as One not to be served but to serve, and let us do likewise. Let us remember His compassion as He wept for the friends and relatives of Lazarus who had died and let us have that same compassion.

Above any imperfect imitation, O Lord, let us look by your grace with faith to the gospel of your Son, our Lord, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. He became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and out of love for sinners humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, for our salvation. He displayed His victory over sin and death on the third day in His glorious Resurrection from the dead and reminds us that as we look upon the suffering of this world, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

All this we ask in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I thrill to see Old Glory paint the breeze

So happy to be home!

With hand upon my heart I thank the Lord for this my native land,
For all I love is here within her gates.
My soul is rooted deeply in the soil on which I stand,
For these are mine own United States.

'Tis Only the Splendor of Light Hideth Thee

Friday, May 20, 2011

Augustine on end-times nonsense

Augustine isn't going camping...
But He said, "It is not for you to know the times, which the Father hath put in His own power." When they got that answer, they had not at all questioned Him about the hour, or day, or year, but about the time. In vain, then, do we attempt to compute definitely the years that may remain to this world, when we may hear from the mouth of the Truth that it is not for us to know this. Yet some have said that four hundred, some five hundred, others a thousand years, may be completed from the ascension of the Lord up to His final coming. But to point out how each of them supports his own opinion would take too long, and is not necessary; for indeed they use human conjectures, and bring forward, nothing certain from the authority of the canonical Scriptures. But on this subject He puts aside the figures of the calculators, and orders silence, who says, "It is not for you to know the times, which the Father hath put in His own power."

-St. Augustine, City of God

Thursday, May 19, 2011


After a month of living and working in the city of Xela, officially known as Quetzaltenango, I have grown very fond of it and will be sad to leave. Along with that sadness I am very excited to be back in the United States, my home and the country that I love.

Looking down on the city of Xela from on top of El Baul, one of the many hills surrounding the city.

Xela is a city with a lot personality and interesting people and places. To give some basic facts about the city, it is Guatemala's second largest with a population of about 160,000, around 65% of which are indigenous Amerindian peoples. These indigenous peoples are descendants of the Mayans and it is one of the Mayan languages which is the source of the name "Xela," a shortened form of the Mayan name for the city, Xelaju. For a brief period Xela was the capital of the independent nation of Los Altos or "The Highlands" before it was annexed by Guatemala.

Xela from the roof of my Spanish school and clinic where I spent the majority of my days.

The city is in the mountains at an elevation of about 7,600 ft. During my first week here I could feel the elevation as I walked up and down the hilly streets and jogged in the hills above the city. Many hills and mountains surround the city, the largest of which is Volcan Santa Maria which I climbed my second weekend in the country. The city is located in a region known for growing excellent coffee and chocolate. I have taken advantage of both of these agricultural products in some of the excellent cafés in the city while studying Spanish or reading my Spanish Bible. The chocolate drinks here are better than any I've had in the U.S.

Inside Café Baviera, one of the places I spent a lot of time at in Xela.

One of the large street-markets in Xela called "La Democracia" with amazingly cheap and high-quality fruits and vegetables.

Xela has been the source of many Guatemalan leaders and intellectuals and its universities are important centers of higher education for Guatemala. I had the privilege of attending one of the classes at the medical school of Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala with a medical student I met at the Presbyterian church here. It was an anatomy lecture and, in my opinion, was better than the anatomy lectures I got at my med school back in the U.S.

In Parque a Centroamerica, more popularly known as "Parque Central"

Looking down on the center of the city from the hill of the church "Cristo Viene." The large building to the right is the cathedral.

Parque Central at night

The spiritual environment in Xela is an often frustratingly complicated mixture of usually syncretistic Roman Catholicism, New-Agey attempts at a return to Mayan religion (minus the child-sacrifice), and "Evangelicalism" which is usually simply extreme prosperity-gospel churches. There are also quite a few Mormons here with an impressive Mormon temple overlooking the city with the illuminated golden statue of Moroni visible for many miles at night. My host family here, all very nice people, are very secular and I think they find it surprising that they're housing a Gringo who attends church weekly. In all of this frustrating and saddening mix I've been blessed to worship at two different Presbyterian churches that seemed to preach the gospel unencumbered by any heretical nonsense. I also attended one mass in the very impressive cathedral which I found interesting.

Xela's cathedral - a very impressive sight at night.

Overall Xela has been a wonderful place to work and study and I hope I can return someday.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Augustine: "No man but Himself has raised Him"

Let us hear, then, how Israel, when dying in Egypt, in blessing his sons, prophetically blessed Judah. He says: "Judah, thy brethren shall praise thee: thy hands shall be on the back of thine enemies; thy father's children shall adore thee. Judah is a lion's whelp: from the sprouting, my son, thou art gone up: lying down, thou hast slept as a lion, and as a lion's whelp; who shall awake him? A prince shall not be lacking out of Judah, and a leader from his thighs, until the things come that are laid up for him; and He shall be the expectation of the nations. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's foal to the choice vine; he shall wash his robe in wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk." I have expounded these words in disputing against Faustus the Manichaean; and I think it is enough to make the truth of this prophecy shine, to remark that the death of Christ is predicted by the word about his lying down, and not the necessity, but the voluntary character of His death, in the title of lion. That power He Himself proclaims in the gospel, saying, "I have the power of laying down my life, and I have the power of taking it again. No man taketh it from me; but I lay it down of myself, and take it again." So the lion roared, so He fulfilled what He said. For to this power what is added about the resurrection refers, "Who shall awake him?" This means that no man but Himself has raised Him, who also said of His own body, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." And the very nature of His death, that is, the height of the cross, is understood by the single word, "Thou art gone up." The evangelist explains what is added, "Lying down, thou hast slept," when he says, "He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost." Or at least His burial is to be understood, in which He lay down sleeping, and whence no man raised Him, as the prophets did some, and as He Himself did others; but He Himself rose up as if from sleep.
- St. Augustine, City of God

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bicicletas locas

The adventure continues here in Guatemala. Last Thursday my teacher here had the idea of renting bicycles and biking around Xela for the day. Three of us ended up biking about 25 kilometers - about 15 miles. It ended up being a great trip but for the first half-hour I seriously regretted agreeing to the idea. In my experience with Latin America, the people here take driving aggressively and somewhat crazily to a level unseen in the U.S. From what I've seen when it comes to traffic down here it's basically survival of the fittest - pedestrians most certainly do not have the right-of-way. So last Thursday morning I rode a bicycle through this craziness as we rode from the center of Xela into some small villages surrounding and this after probably 7 or 8 years of not being on a bicycle. During the first half-hour of the bike ride through the very busy streets of Xela I had two thoughts: If one of these buses going 50 mph and passing me about a foot away from my bike clips me I'm not looking forward to undergoing surgery in a Guatemalan hospital. My second thought was that at least if I die this morning it will have been during a great adventure.
Lots of these crosses made from palm fronds are seen around Xela. They are made during Holy Week and displayed during the following weeks.

The streets were much less crazy by the time we got into the countryside with rolling hills of recently sprouted corn and small picturesque villages.
My Spanish teacher and I in front of many acres of corn - all grown without machinery or pesticides and only manure for fertilizer.

Very colorful church in San Andres.

Overlooking the village of San Andres. If you look closely you can see textiles of various colors drying in the sun on the roofs of houses.

The three of us bicyclists in front of another church.

Aside from the bike adventure I checked out some very interesting hot-springs called Fuentes Georginas last weekend and I've befriended a family from the Presbyterian church here and had some very interesting theological conversations in Spanish. Being in Guatemala continues to be a great blessing.
Hot Springs at Fuentes Georginas.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Volcan Santa María and Lago de Atitlán

Last weekend I checked off two more things I wanted to do while in Guatemala. The first was to climb Volcan Santa María and the second was to visit Lago de Atitlán. Volcan Santa María is a 12,375 tall mountain with a nearly perfectly conical shape when viewed from Xela where I'm learning Spanish and working in a clinic for a month. As with every place I've ever lived I wanted to climb the tallest mountain on the horizon.

The climb up Santa Maria ended up turning into somewhat of an adventure. Originally I had figured that we would pay a local guide to take us up the mountain. But after befriending a Guatemalan medical student at church who wanted to climb and after hearing that it was easy to find and stay on the trail up the mountain we decided to do it on our own without a guide. Four of us, three Americans and our Guatemalan friend, met at 6:30AM in a park in Xela and hopped on a chicken-bus, used by the locals, to take us to a village at the base of the mountain. While on the bus our Guatemalan friend told us he would not be able to climb the mountain with us as he had an English class in the university which he had forgotten about. He helped us to find the beginning of the trail up the mountain though so we were confident that we would reach the summit without a problem. But in a half hour we were lost, asking the occasional farmer or Guatemalan collecting wood for guidance back to the right path. Having heard many tales of tourists being robbed or worse while wandering around in wilderness areas of Guatemala, getting lost was not an experience free from anxiety. But after asking three or four people we ran into for directions we finally found the correct path and after innumerable switch-backs reached the summit. As with every mountain I've climbed, reaching the summit was an extremely rewarding experience. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy by the time we were on top of the mountain so we were unable to view the very active and regularly erupting volcano, Santiaguito, which is very close to Santa Maria.
Volcan Santa María as viewed from the roof of my school and clinic in Xela.

Landscape near the base of Santa María.

At the summit of Volcan Santa María, 12,375 ft.

The second adventure of the weekend began on Sunday with a bus-ride with a fellow classmate from Loma Linda, also attending the Spanish school in Xela. After we went Bethel Evangelical Presbyterian Church, we departed Xela for the town of Panajachel on the shore of Guatemala's famous Lake Atitlán. Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central American and was formed by the collapse of an enormous volcanic caldera.

We took chicken buses from Xela to Panajachel, changing buses twice in Los Encuentros and then in Sololá. By 4:30 we were in Panajachel, a village known as a destination for hippies leaving the U.S. and called "Gringotenango" by my Spanish tutor which roughly translates, "place of the Gringo." Gringotenango would be an apt name for Panajachel as the many blond heads and the great frequency of tourists speaking German, French and English formed a surprising contrast to Xela, where I've lived for the past two weeks. After getting situated in a hotel we headed down to the lake and everything I had heard of it's beauty seemed to be true. Great, conical volcanoes rose from it's shores as the sun reflected pink and orange on thunderheads in the distance.

We decided to find a private boat operator to take us around to some of the small, mostly indigenous villages surrounding the lake. After attempting to haggle we reached a deal of paying half the price of the trip in cash that night with an agreement to pay the other half with a credit card the next morning. We hoped that as is often the case in Western Guatemala this time of year, the morning sky would be free of clouds. After arising early we were down at the boat dock waiting for the boat-operator by 6AM. By 6:20 he showed up and we were zooming across Lake Atitlán. While the lake in the early morning was a beautiful sight, the day ended up being quite hazy and cloudy with the magnificent volcanoes arising around the shores being mostly shrouded in clouds.

We first visited Santiago de Atitlán, having breakfast there at 7:30 and visiting the very old church with its shrine to the "Martyrs of Santiago Atitlán," killed during the Guatemalan civil war, including the local parish priest, Fr. Stanley Rother. We next headed to the small villages of San Antonio and Santa Catarina before returning to Panajachel. Upon our return our boat operator informed us that the credit card machine was not receiving a signal and therefore we would have to pay the rest of our fee in cash. One problem: we were almost out of cash and and neither of us brought our debit cards because of the decently high chance of being robbed. When we told the operator we didn't have enough cash he sent his friend with us to follow us around Panajachel as we tried to find a solution to our problem. After a visit to the bank where I was told that the only way I could get a cash advance from a credit card without a pin number was to withdraw 2,000 quetzales I assumed I'd be calling my dad to get him to wire me cash through Western Union. In the end my fellow classmate was able to somehow convince his credit card company to give him and emergency pin number over the phone to get a cash-advance. He got the cash and we payed for the boat-ride around the lake which had been well worth it.

Lago de Atitlán from Panachel.

The village of San Antonio on the eastern shore of Atitlán.

Near Santiago de Atitlán.

Looking out the church doors in San Antonio.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Drug-money or church-money?"

It was a question that was asked in response to the hummers across the street from the house. As most people in Guatemala know, drug-dealers and drug-lords drive nice cars. The father in one host family told a fellow student that if he saw a hummer in the streets of Xela then he should assume it is someone connected with a drug cartel. But in the case of one student, when she asked her host family if the hummers parked across the street were related to the drug trade she was told that no, these vehicles were the result of a different trade. These vehicles were the result of what is perhaps the United States' foulest export, that is, the Prosperity "Gospel." These hummers, parked across the street in Guatemala's second city, filled with impoverished people seeking the Lord, belonged to the children of a mega-church pastor in Xela, a preacher of the Prosperity "Gospel."

This story about the hummers was my third encounter with "Health and Wealth" or "Prosperity Theology" here. The first had been in an unfortunate Easter-Sunday service. The second had been when the daughter of my own host family expressed her distrust of the pastor of the largest Protestant church in Xela. She related that this man had multiple nice cars, multiple houses and body guards. And all this in a developing nation with a staggering rate of malnourished children. And what sickens me is that here in Guatemala these churches are not called "Health and Wealth" or "Prosperity Gospel" or "Word of Faith," they are simply called "Evangelical."

Towards the end of my conversation with this student who had seen the hummers, I joked that instead of asking whether it's drug money when we spot a hummer in Guatemala, maybe we should ask if it's church-money. The money of all the people who can barely buy food but instead give it to their rich pastor thinking that it's a way to secure God's blessing. But the complete totality of blessing for the Christian is found in Christ alone and His work and not in any work of our own. That's why I'm thankful for the Reformed Presbyterian churches I've found down here, preaching a message exactly opposite of those preaching the Prosperity Gospel. As I've reflected on these things I've been reminded of a diatribe by John Piper that I agree whole-heartedly with:

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Before coming to Guatemala, the one thing I knew I wanted to do in the country was climb the tallest mountain in Central America, Volcán Tajumulco. Tajumulco is a large stratovolcano in the Northwest of Guatemala with an elevation of 13,845 ft.

A group of four students from our Spanish school were picked up at 3AM Saturday morning for a 2 hour drive to a village at the base of Tajumulco. There we were supposed to find our guide to take us up the mountain but our driver was unable to find him in the village. He eventually found a teenager who was willing to guide us up the mountain. This young man, Julio, was an indigenous person and a member of the Mam tribe, a people group descended from the Mayans. It was very interesting to talk with him about his family in Spanish as we climbed the mountain. It was also interesting to hear him speak in his native tongue on his cell phone in a language which sounded very similar to some of the languages I've heard spoken by Native Americans from the U.S.

The climb itself was not very difficult and followed a well-trod path until about 500 ft. below the summit where we began to scramble over rocks. The views from the summit were spectacular with the range of Central American volcanoes stretching to the south and the mountains of southern Mexico to the north. We shared our lunches and water with our guide at the summit as he had been unprepared to lead a group up that day and were back at the car by four in the afternoon. It was a great introduction to hiking in Guatemala. Here are some pictures:

At sunrise looking at a nearby peak in northern Guatemala.

A lizard.

We came across a number of cows grazing at the 9 or 1o,ooo ft. elevation.

Looking south at the volcanoes stretching into Central America. The closest is Santa Maria, which is nearby Xela, the city I'm staying in.

Summit of Tajumulco.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Miracle of Faith

I was thinking the other day of what a miracle it is that anyone would have faith in Christ. What caused me to think this is the context I currently find myself in at my Spanish language school and clinic here in Guatemala. Except for me, a classmate from Loma Linda and one other student here, it is a very worldly place with many anti-Christian ideologies and worldly lifestyles. When I first got here the atmosphere actually seemed very spiritually oppressive but as always the Lord has provided and He has begun to show me how to be a Christian in this place.

It was a combination of two things which caused me to think about this miracle of faith. First it was just seeing how natural it is to be very worldly and how easy it is to be very confidant in ones worldliness. Not only is there confidence in worldliness but there is an assurance about the absurdity of faith. When I thought of how enticing this world can be and how hard faith can be I was amazed by the fact that anyone has faith in Christ. I was reminded of the fact that apart from God's grace every person truly is a God-hating rebel. Apart from God's grace we are absolutely dead spiritually and can do nothing in procuring our own salvation. Our salvation is a work of God from beginning to end. He makes us alive out of our deadness, He awakens faith in Christ and love for Him and He makes us new creations, and all in spite of the fact that everything we have ever done deserves the very opposite of such blessedness.

The fact that faith is such a miracle also made me realize how much we should be rejoicing over our brothers and sisters who know Christ. That anyone would know Him and love Him is truly a miracle when you consider how enticing this world is and what is the natural trajectory of man, a trajectory utterly opposed to God. We should rejoice even over those brothers and sisters who we would not typically choose as friends or who might annoy us at times. They are a miracle of God, beloved by Him and saved by His grace. We should delight in them. This was the second realization I came to when thinking about this miracle of faith, that I often take for granted my brothers and sisters in Christ and rarely rejoice over their faith, especially if I find it difficult to get along with them.

I had been thinking all of this when I opened my Bible in a coffee shop here in Xela. I decided I was going to read the book of 1 Peter as I had not read it in a long time. I was amazed by what I read as it spoke directly to this miracle of faith I had been thinking about over the last couple of days. Peter calls the faith of Christians "more precious than gold that perishes," and then goes on to describe faith (1 Peter 1:7). He writes:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)
Being in this worldly context has reminded me of what a miracle faith is, something I truly take for granted when I'm always around Christians as is usually the case back in Loma Linda. When you are acquainted with a Christian you are acquainted with a walking, breathing miracle. You are acquainted with someone who was dead who has been made alive. You are acquainted with someone who loves the Lord of the universe, though they have never seen Him. You are acquainted with someone who finds ultimate joy in One whom they have never seen. This is a miracle. Rejoice in these people. Rejoice that you know them. Be thankful for every member of Christ's holy Church. I have been reminded of my lack of thankfulness for my brothers and sisters this last week and how much I take them for granted. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Juan Calvino y Juan Pablo II

My time in Guatemala has been very rewarding so far. The Spanish language school where I'm doing a monthlong clerkship rotation has many interesting activities in the community including a thrice-weekly clinic where I can stumble around in my Spanish and try to help a few people out. I also climbed the tallest mountain in Central America on Saturday and will be doing a post about that soon.

But this post is about something greatly more important than learning Spanish, practicing medicine or climbing a mountain. This morning I, along with the classmate I came down with, worshipped with our brothers and sisters at Iglesia Presbiteriana Emanuel, "Emanuel Presbyterian Church." We sang some familiar (In Christ Alone) and some unfamiliar hymns. But we did that which is universal in Christendom, that is proclaim the creed and celebrate the Eucharist. It was a great blessing to worship the Lord and receive at the table of the Lord with these brothers and sisters. It turns out that this church also houses a seminary on its campus, Seminario Juan Calvino de Guatemala, "John Calvin Seminary of Guatemala," teaching good conservative Reformed doctrine.

Emanuel Presbyterian Church and John Calvin Seminary of Guatemala

Later in the day as I wandered around the Parque Central (Central Park) of Xela I was surprised by the countenance of a familiar face, of the late Pope John Paul II. The Cathedral had enormous posters up celebrating his beatification. Even though I don't agree with him on many things theologically he is a man who made an impact on me when he was still living and for whom I have a great deal of respect.

The poster reads: Beato Juan Pablo II. La Iglesia se alegra en la tierra pues hay un neuvo Santo en el Cielo. "Blessed John Paul II. The Church rejoices on Earth as there is a new Saint in Heaven."