In a few short days we’ll be in Guatemala with Lemonade International on our long-awaited bloggers trip. In addition to the inevitable logistical details to take care of before the trip, I’ve also been trying to get my heart ready for all this experience will mean, wanting to be sensitive to what God will reveal to me about himself and about his love for this cruel, crazy, beautiful world.
At the same time I’ve been thinking of the many books I’ve read over the years having to do with Guatemala, remembering all they’ve taught me about the land where I was born, a country I’m even still getting to know. If for one reason or another you’re interested in learning more about Guatemala – say, because you know next to nothing about it or because you’re headed there on a summer mission trip or because you’re curious where that fair trade coffee you’re enjoying came from – below are five books I’d recommend getting and reading.
But first, a disclaimer. Guatemala is a beautiful country, with warm, friendly people, a nearly perfect climate, and some of the most beautiful vistas you’ll find anywhere. But to understand Guatemala in all its beauty and brokenness today, we need to grapple with its painful history. These books do that.
Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala
by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer
The definitive book on the events that led to the country’s 36-year civil war, beginning with the toppling of a democratically elected government because of the much feared “domino effect” of the 1950s and 60s. It’s an uncomfortable book for American citizens to read, given our country’s role in the war, but it provides important historical lessons we’d do well to learn.
Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala
by Daniel Wilkinson
Once you read Bitter Fruit, you’ll have a good frame of reference for this look at what the war years were like for landless peasants working on large coffee plantations in the western highlands, and what it takes to return to “life as usual” even in times of relative peace.
Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story
by Henri Nouwen
The early 1980s were some of the most tumultuous and gruesome years of the war, as the ongoing genocide trial against former dictator Rios Montt is reminding us. This short book tells the story of two Catholic priests who refused to take sides in the war, while also refusing to abandon their people. It eventually cost one of them his life.
City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala
by Kevin Lewis O’Neill
In recent decades, Protestant churches in Guatemala have grown numerically in leaps and bounds. Here’s a fascinating look at how members of one prominent Pentecostal church understand what it means to be good Christian citizens in the midst of the country’s political, social, and economic situation.
Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America
by Robert Brenneman
Guatemala City’s street youth gangs are notorious, but a surprising number of members are leaving the gangs and becoming evangélicos. The author of this book interprets the phenomenon in purely sociological terms, which I’d suggest only tell part of the story, but it’s illuminating anyway.