This past week I received the unfortunate news that a friend has gone to be with the Lord.
I met Zacheo (on the left in the picture above) in February of 2006, when our World Race team was working in Guatemala. On our very first day of ministry, Pastor Antonio had led us to a woman's home and explained to us that she desired prayer for her son, Zacheo. He had gotten wrapped up in gangs and drugs, and she was worried sick. We prayed with her and did our best to comfort and encourage her and her younger son.
The following week, we were assisting members of the church on one of their work days. They had gotten a job removing rocks (remnants from the Hurricane Stan mudslides) to raise money for their church building. As it turns out, one of the young men on the work crew was this woman's son, Zacheo. When we had finished our work for the day, we found seats in the shade and chatted as we thirstily drank our bags of water. We talked to him about faith, forgiveness, and the power of God. We prayed with him, and he committed then and there to turn his life around and put his faith in Christ.
Later that same week, our missionary team was given the opportunity to sing on Pastor Antonio's weekly radio program. Afterwards, our new friend Zacheo approached us and related that he had heard us sing, and had felt so encouraged, as if we were angels praying for him. Zacheo came to our church services every night, and by the end of the month he had officially joined as a member. Over the next two years, he remained devoted and continued to grow deeper in his faith.
The night I returned home from our mission trip to New Orleans, I had a message from Pastor Antonio waiting for me. Zacheo had been swimming in the lake, had some sort of unfortunate mishap, and drowned. How exactly this could have happened, they're not sure.
Obviously, his mother and brother are devastated. The church is also heavily grieving the loss: Zacheo was the 'first son', the first convert of the new congregation, and his passing leaves a huge hole in their hearts. Not only must they endure sorrow, the humble community also faces the reality of how to provide for funeral expenses, an exorbitant cost in an impoverished area.
When I heard the news, my heart just broke. Gary and I have been planning our return visit to Guatemala for just three months from now, and I had so greatly anticipated seeing Zacheo's face again. I couldn't wait to hear about what God has been doing in his life these past two years, and to remind him what a blessing he's been to us. (Seeing God work in Zacheo's life so powerfully within those few short weeks had opened my eyes to the reality that God may be wanting to do more through me than 'just plant seeds'; that in some parts of the world, the harvest is truly plentiful, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 9.)
So, God willing, I'll still be stepping on a plane July 2, and on July 3 I will be climbing the hill to the familiar tiny home in the village of San Pablo on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Though I can't see Zacheo himself, I will visit his family. I will bring pictures, I will pray, I will cry, I will smile, and this time I can encourage them with the assurance that God's good work has been completed in Zacheo's life.
As I know that he is now with the Lord, surrounded by the glorious songs of real angels, I do not say 'adios' but 'hasta luego'. I look forward to seeing you again in heaven, mi hermano.