Posted March 22, 2010:
We Don’t Know the Future

by Kathy Snider, lay missioner.

Shortly before leaving Guatemala for a stay at my home in North Dakota in the States, I shared a simple meal of chicken soup with Petrona and Carmen, two of my close friends. It was our despedida, our farewell.

When the food was gone and the laughter subsided, the mood changed and with deep emotion, Carmen thanked me for our friendship and for the help she had received through the ministry. Then she began to cry because I was leaving.

Uncomfortable with her sadness, I consoled her. "Carmen, I’m only going for four months. I’ll be back before you know it."

"We are here together now," she replied somberly, "but we don’t know the future and what could happen to any one of us."

Petrona didn’t say anything, but by her knowing gaze, I could see that she agreed with Carmen. "We will all be here," I said lightly. "Our mission isn’t done yet. I don’t think it’s our time to die any time soon. Anyway, I hope not."

But my two friends know first-hand the fragility of life and how quickly things can change. They know the hardship of trying to feed and educate a family with little or no money, of working long hours in the fields, and of struggling with illness when there is no money for medicine and the doctor is two hours away.

They have experienced sudden, tragic death as well. In the early 1980s at the height of the civil war, Carmen fleeing for her life during a massacre, saw her thirteen-year-old sister gunned down. Petrona’s husband’s entire family of eight "disappeared" one evening, never to be seen again.

So these women take nothing for granted; they know that what is given is gift.

On October 29, I received a phone call from Petrona. She is a skilled weaver and artisan of Ixcan Creations, the small business we are developing. She was calling to assure me that she and the other weavers in her group would be praying for our first home show and sale in the U.S. that evening.

I promised that I would call the following day to inform them about how things went.

The sale was a wonderful success, and I called her the following day. When I finally got through, I could barely hear a weak, unrecognizable voice on the other end. "Petrona? Petrona?" I asked anxiously. I heard a weak, "Yes, it’s me."

"Where are you?’

"I’m in the hospital. I was bitten by a snake."

Days later I learned the details from her sister, Rebecca.

Petrona had been picking cardamom in her parcela (plot of land), about an hour and a half from the village center, when she was bitten on her hand by a snake. And it wasn’t just any snake. It was the deadly barba amarilla—one of the ten most poisonous snakes in the world.

She ran to the village and was able to get an emergency lift by truck to the hospital in Playa Grande, two hours away.

"The doctor said that if she had arrived a half hour later," Rebecca told me, "she would have died."

"I am only alive by the grace of God," Petrona said later on the phone.

I was so relieved and grateful. In truth, we had almost lost her. This is a frightening thought, and I don’t dwell on it.

Carmen had been right. "Take nothing and no one for granted. Everything and everyone is gift."

May we live in awareness of this reality that Carmen and Petrona have learned through so much suffering. And let us give thanks to God for everything.

Kathy Snider is a former working guest of Madonna House.


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