So they tried to kidnap a missionary.
I wanted to share with you an experience I had in my early days as a missionary in Guatemala. Some of you may have heard me share it, but the experience was formative for me on so many levels and something that God has used to be an encouragement to many that I wanted to share it again.
Back in 2008 we had only been serving in Guatemala for a few years. Our ministry at the time consisted primarily of serving at a small orphanage with 12 girls. What we did was simple. We worked to meet their physical needs through giving them food and clothing. We worked to meet their spiritual needs through Bible classes and worked to meet their educational needs by teaching them practical things like computer skills and English.
It was a humble ministry with no greater aim than to love vulnerable children and orphans who came from difficult places.
At that time, my Spanish wasn’t that good, so I would recruit other missionaries to assist me. One particular day I was traveling back from a class with a fellow missionary named Michael.
We stopped at a gas station in one of the “good” parts of town, a commercial area with lots of traffic and a police station around the corner.
I knew that Guatemala was a dangerous place as by this time I’d seen shootings, witnessed robberies, and had a gun put to my head. But, given where we had stopped, I didn’t feel particularly worried about our safety.
Michael went in to pay for the gas, and I took off the gas cap to fill up the car. It was a normal day, and the sun was shining, yet all of a sudden, I felt a weight in my soul that something wasn’t right. I didn’t have worry or fear, but it was as if a cloud has passed over my heart.
I looked up and to my surprise, sitting in the passenger seat of my van was a nicely dressed Guatemalan man.
To this day, I can remember clearly how looked. He was dark-skinned and had on a white dress shirt and dark green dress pants.
I remember being puzzled by what was going on. I walked over to my window and in my broken Spanish asked if I could help him.
He looked up at me and said in perfect English, “This is a robbery, we are robbing you. You are going to come with us while we go to the bank, the ATM and your house, don’t try anything or we’ll ***** kill you!”
At that moment a car with tinted windows pulled up in front of my van, two gang members or “mareros” got out of the car, stood on either side of me and said, “Get in the van”.
If you have ever seen a picture of the MS-13 gang members in Central American prisons, you will know what I’m talking about. These are some scary-looking dudes who are known for violence and a willingness to commit crimes without fear of the consequences. They tattoo much of their body and often times the ink is related to crimes and murders they have committed. They are proud of what they do and are not afraid to show it.
Their faces were completely covered with tattoos, and one of them had horns inked on his head. They had pistols in their pants. The gas pump was behind me, and the van was in front of me.
I had no place to run.
I turned to the man in the front seat of my car, and said: “Sir, I’m a missionary, I don’t have much and I work for God!”
He looked up at me with a puzzled look on his face and said, “What did you say?”
I reached into my van, grabbed one of the flyers about our work and handed it to him. He looked at the pictures of me with kids at the orphanage and said, “You really do this?”
“Yes sir!” I replied, “I work for God!”
He turned to the two men on either side of me and said in Spanish, “We’re not doing this, get back in the car.”
They looked at him like, “Are you kidding me boss?” and one of them said “But we already got him.”
The boss just shook his head no and began to open the door to get out of the passenger side of the van. At that moment something came over me.
I reached through the window, grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Thank you, God loves you, and you can change your life.”
As he lifted his head to look at me I saw tears streaming down his face. He told me to close my eyes, put my head down and forget it ever happened.
I did as he asked, and as they were driving away Michael, the other missionary came out of the gas station and asked “Who were those guys you were talking to?”
I turned to him and said, “They were just trying to kidnap me, next time would you remember to lock your door?”
He stared at me in disbelief. While my time with the assailants had seemed like an eternity, probably only about 90 seconds had passed.
As I finished filling up the van and reflected on what had happened, a few things stood out to me.
I hadn’t been afraid. I don’t consider myself a brave person. People often think they will do courageous things when danger strikes, but in reality, our subconscious usually takes over, the innermost self of who we are comes to the fore, and we just react.
But the reason I wasn’t afraid was because God was with me. He gave the peace I needed at the moment I needed it, and He gave me the words to say. The words spoken were not just the exact words my prospective kidnapper needed to hear. They, were a promise that God was giving to me.
“I work for God!”
Yes, I work for Him in a dangerous country, and our ministry takes place in dangerous places. It has to because that is where the people are who most desperately need the truth and hope of what the Gospel has to offer.
I’ve traveled across Mexico countless times; a country wracked by violence and crime, I’ve taken my 6 kids with me to raise support for our ministry, and yes, I’ve broken down on those trips and had to lean heavily on God to see me through, and He always has.
I’ve dealt with sickness and serious health challenges while here and almost died of dengue fever, but God was there with me each and every time.
I’ve put my money where my mouth is, even when I didn’t have hardly any money, and committed to staying here to serve the orphaned, vulnerable and disabled when all common sense and logic dictated that we should have packed up and gone home because we didn’t seem to have the resources to accomplish the task that God has set before us.
I’ve faced these challenges and more, but being able to fall back on the promise that I work for God has continually given me the confidence to persevere and carry on.
The same God that can keep me safe in a nice American suburb is the same God that can keep me safe on the streets and in the slums of Guatemala.
I’ve shared this testimony many times, in churches, Bible studies and conferences, yet the people who I think it has impacted the most are those we serve in Guatemala.
As kids have aged out of the orphanages, and we have helped them find their way in life, they are often afraid and worried about traveling on the public buses, going to places they have never been and living life outside of the four walls of the institution.
Hearing this story from me; someone they have known for years, who has taken those same buses, who works in dangerous places and who has, by the power of God and grace of the Holy Spirit faced down what might be their worst fears, has been a help and encouragement to many of them.
Other times it has been a blessing to those whom we serve in our community centers. They live out the danger this country has to offer every day when they step out their doors. They see their friends, family, and loved ones lost to senseless crime and violence. For them to hear a testimony of God at work in the country where they live, from someone they know, is a powerful thing.
I work for God.
It’s a promise that God gave me over a decade ago when I was just starting out in ministry.
I work for God.
It’s a promise that has encouraged many young people in Guatemala.
I work for God.
If we are going to say that we believe in God, that we love Him and want to honor Him, then we should be willing to do His work when and where He calls us to do it knowing that we can trust that nothing will happen to us that is not within His perfect will.
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About Tim and Sharie Martiny.
We are missionaries in Guatemala with our six children, Julia-now is college- (19), Audrey (16), Vanessa (14) Jessica (12), Alex (10) and Alison (8). We both come from missionary families and were raised overseas, Timothy in Europe, and Sharie in South East Asia and Mexico.
We work primarily in orphan care and prevention. The Biblical call in James 1:27 to care for the orphaned and vulnerable is our calling. Our ministry works with vulnerable children and their families in their communities through programs we run at two community centers in Colina Santa Fe and San Jose Pinula.